Help! (1965), or Instant Smiles

20 04 2009

My first Beatles record was the White Album. I borrowed it from my friend at school in the 9th grade; he is a very good friend, and it is a very good record. Before that, I had heard my father’s fancy record player blaring The Beatles across the house on weekends and lackadaisical weekdays, and every now and then a movie would come on TV or a lone song would pop up on the radio, but before that day in the 9th grade I had never really experienced the music in its raw power. It was forbidden to me, in a way; I was too shy to ask my father for the albums, and nobody my age listened to “old music”. But my friend’s parents had an album they were willing to part with for a time, and so I listened to it that very day, the moment I jumped into the house and turned on my CD player. If you’ve ever met me, imagine me sitting on the floor cross-legged with a CD player in my hand, sobbing my eyes out to the song “Martha My Dear”. I truly found music that day, and ever since then The Beatles have been a part of my life in some form or fashion. So now I review movies, and what better way to pay homage to my childhood heroes then to review one of their movies? Today’s movie, Help!, is not as famous as their first film, A Hard Day’s Night, or as infamous as their third, Magical Mystery Tour, but it has a lot of things that those two movies flat-out don’t.

Help! follows The Beatles (John, Paul, Ringo, and George) through a number of vignettes across the world. It’s a parody of James Bond films and spy flicks, as the plot involves all kinds of ridiculous international intrigue. The boys from Liverpool are all here with their wonderful and wacky personalities, thwarting stiffs and geezers at every turn. They woo all the ladies, outwit the bad guys (unintentionally), and all the while cracking jokes and singing songs. This was The Beatles at the height of their popularity, and they are in full form throughout the picture.

There is such an exuberance to be found here that it can hardly be contained on the screen. It turns the television into a box of instant smiles, and I couldn’t get enough of these four silly Liverpudlians who genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. How often is it that you watch a comedy movie and actually believe that the leads all called each other and hung out all the time in real life? This is the movie’s biggest strength, and it goes a long way in making Help! be as fun and funny as it is.

While I don’t believe this to be as good a film as A Hard Day’s Night, there are some Beatle-tastic lines and lots of sticking it to the man. You always have to come into a Beatles movie with the mindset that anyone over the age of 30 is not to be trusted unless they dress or talk like John, Paul, George, or Ringo. Those fogies just don’t “get it”, man, and the humor often arises from just how out of touch some older folks are. What they probably never anticipated was that nobody would EVER be able to top the coolness and nonchalance in effect here. The Beatles didn’t just talk like they were too cool for school; they talked like they weren’t from this planet. Take this snippet of dialog when they discover a plot against them put in place by the generic villains:

Ringo: There’s more here than meets the eye!

George: Ho ho.

John: Ho.

George: Ho ho.

John: Ho.

George: Ho ho ho.

John: Ho ho!

George: Ho ho.

John: Huh ho.

Huh? Whatever it is, it makes me laugh. It’s like a language from a world much hipper than our own.

Oh, and did I mention there were songs? A perfect soundtrack here, all written of course by the Fab Four. What separates this from the other Beatles movies is the really exotic soundtrack. A Hard Day’s Night had all mop-top Beatles tunes, and by Magical Mystery Tour, they were completely psyched out in their Sgt. Pepper’s years. Here, they were in that in-between phase. They were already smoking heavily (not cigarettes), but they hadn’t given up the clean-cut sound yet. This leads to some of the best tracks in the Beatles oeuvre being on the soundtrack. “Help!”, of course, is a great opener, and “Ticket To Ride” is a classic that needs no introduction. Some rarer songs like “Another Girl” and “You’re Going To Lose That Girl” are on here, and as always, whenever a song starts playing, the world magically stops just long enough for the band to perform their hit single. You’re winning either way, though.

Go see this movie. Even if you don’t like The Beatles, you’d be crazy not to see the potential for a fun time here. Four goofy guys+spy flick parody+exotic locales+killer soundtrack=goldmine!!! You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll mostly laugh. But maybe this will be your introduction to the Fab Four, and you’ll sob at their simple genius like I did. I don’t blame you. I give Help! 9 Ho Ho!s out of 10!

Tomorrow we’ll be taking a peek into Species! Until then!

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