The Beatles

Help! [DVD]

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If A Hard Day's Night, the Beatles' first film, chronicled, in its pseudo-documentary style, the early days of Beatlemania, then Help!, filmed only one year later in 1965, took the group's worldwide fame for granted. A Hard Day's Night made much use of Beatles fans, chasing them through the streets and screaming at their performances. For Help!, returning director Richard Lester, as he comments during a 30-minute "making of" feature included with the 2007 double-DVD reissue, was at pains to keep fans out of the shots, something he says frequently was not easy. Lester and the Beatles felt they had to do something different for the second film, and the idea hit upon by Marc Behm, credited with the story, was to spoof the popular James Bond movie series with its globe-trotting and action sequences. For a band that was spending much of its time on airplanes, this may have come naturally. Like nearly any sequel, however, Help! is somewhat lacking in exposition, particularly of character; it's assumed that the audience knows each of the Beatles from the previous film and they make less of an impression individually as they go running by, chased by villains intent upon stealing a ring or killing Ringo Starr. When they do stop, it's to sing a song, but always in a semblance of a recording studio or an exotic location (in a precursor to music videos), never before an audience. They do so on Salisbury Plain near Stonehenge, in the Alps, and in the Bahamas. (Lester says he was told it was important for part of the film to be set partially in the Bahamas and so had the island location written in; perhaps somebody wanted a Caribbean vacation.) The effect is not unlike a Bond film, as the photogenic tourist spots zip by, and the plot takes a back seat. If Help! isn't as funny as A Hard Day's Night, it's in part because the Beatles don't seem to be putting much effort into it; they just cruise through the film. Another added feature of the DVD reissue is "A Missing Scene," which concerns a scene cut from the movie that remains missing; the feature displays some still photographs along with interview segments explaining that the scene, which was to match the Beatles with British comic actor Frankie Howerd (who had, for example, starred in the West End production of the Broadway musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), was dropped because the Beatles, who didn't really know their lines and were making things up as they went along, did not mesh with Howerd, a trained performer keeping to the script. One gets the impression that they treated the whole movie that way, and that Lester got what he could out of them and otherwise shot around them. Nevertheless, Help! is an enjoyable romp with some excellent songs, particularly "Ticket to Ride," "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," and the title tune. The DVD reissue has been restored carefully, improving greatly on old prints and the long-deleted VHS release. The extra features provide some interesting emendations, although there are no comments from the surviving Beatles.