Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Great Unwatched: Help! (1965)

Director: Richard Lester

Runtime: 90 minutes

I can safely blame Tim Lucas for this one. About six months ago, he pointed out a fire sale that was having on the deluxe box set of Help! -- something like an 80% savings. Not bad, especially considering that the box (which usually goes for $120) contains a reproduction of Richard Lester's annotated (read: scribbled on) shooting script, a hardbound commemorative book with production notes and exclusive photographs, a poster, and eight lobby cards. Oh yeah, and the movie and its special features disc. Those are kind of important. The same deal is going on, actually, to a slightly lesser degree -- just check Amazon's sellers page for the outfit "warehouse_deals." I can report that my own set arrived without any of the issues in their description.

As for the film itself, I can safely agree with many other critics who have pointed out that it's silly nonsense. I can agree even more with fans of the film that find the silly nonsense to be, at least, inspired nonsense. Richard Lester is a director I have a lot of respect for and his work with The Beatles in this and A Hard Day's Night shows a man who completely grasps the pop mystique of the Fab Four. Just look at the differences between AHDN and Help!, films made within a year of each other, which can be a whole era in the life of a pop band.

A Hard Day's Night had the boys chased around like mad, with screaming fans around every corner. Now, a year later, they've settled in; they're far more likely to have busybody housewives discuss them from afar than to be mobbed. AHDN is plotless -- a madcap day in the life of the most popular band in the world, before anybody's quite figured out what to do with these four moptopped lads from Liverpool. In Help!, a plot (although admittedly not much of one) asserts itself, and the boys have to play keepaway with a special sacrificial ring that's become stuck to Ringo's finger. Now there's structure, a way to align the band with standard conventions, even if they have a tendency to play fast and loose with said conventions. Actually, the elements of the plot actually reverse the first point of the paragraph -- The Beatles are still getting mobbed in Help!, but now it's from people who want something from them and/or who are against their music and what they stand for (the opening credits involve a religious cult throwing darts at a film of the band performing the title song). Still, there's nothing quite so sublime in Help! as the "Can we have our ball back?" bit from AHDN (which I've helpfully embedded below).

Comparisons aside, though, it's clear that everyone involved is having a lot of fun. Richard Lester maintains enough control on the shenanigans that they do not become tedious, but not so much control that he takes the fun out. He leaves in plenty of room to riff on things like the James Bond series, British labor unions, and even basic cinematic conventions like intertitles (there are many, many intertitles in this film and nearly all of them funnier than they have any right to be). If there's a major complaint here, it's that we don't get a strong notion of each band member's individual style and personality. Oh, it comes through in pieces here and there, but at points they seem more like a hive mind of jocularity than four independent minds.

I really dug this film a lot, so I should probably thank Tim Lucas instead of assigning blame. Except blame is more fun.

Worth the Purchase: If you don't know my answer, then Ringo isn't the only one who needs help.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've just started Scott Allen Nolan's book on Boris Karloff and I'm looking forward to a fascinating read.

Stats: 23/401 movies watched in nineteen days.
Currently Projected Completion Date: January 21, 2010
Completion Date Goal: February 25, 2010

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