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Help! Review

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John, George and Paul try to keep Ringo out of the clutches of Kaili cultist Clang and mad scientist Professor Foot, who are after the powerful sacrificial ring that has become stuck on the drummer's finger.

★★★★★

On their 1964 fan club Christmas record, The Beatles sounded upbeat about the prospect of filming a follow-up to A Hard Day's Night. They had used their clout to secure location shoots in Austria and the Bahamas and Richard Lester had agreed to work in colour. However, John Lennon's antipathy had prompted screenwriter Alun Owen's dismissal and the storyline of what was then called Eight Arms to Hold You had been through a tortuous process.

Bored with Beatlemania, the band had insisted on an escapist approach and Lester and Joseph McGrath's original idea had been for Ringo to be pursued by a hitman, who was also a master of disguise. But when it was discovered that Philippe De Broca was doing something similar with Up to His Ears, Marc Behm was hired to concoct a chase scenario, which was Beatlified by Charles Wood (who had scripted Lester's Swinging Sixties comedy, The Knack).  



Although they still played variations on themselves, the Fabs were very different from the foursome who had cheekily ad-libbed their way through their docudramatic debut. Indeed, John, Paul and George spent much of the production doped up and Lester implied they were `passengers' in their own vehicle, who they left Ringo to do the real acting alongside Leo McKern, Victor Spinetti and Eleanor Bron.  



Yet, Help! is far from the mediocrity some critics have suggested. Lester's passion for silent slapstick frequently came to the fore, most notably during the `Ticket to Ride' sequence, which he edited to the track's rhythm from spontaneous tomfoolery in the Alpine snow. There's also plenty of offbeat wit that drew comparisons with the Marx Brothers and The Goons, while the action is strewn with James Bond pastiches (mostly from Goldfinger) that reinforced the picture's conscious sense of cool.

 Moreover, Help! was infinitely more musically mature than its predecessor, with Lennon's title track and `You've Got to Hide Your Love Away' revealing a Dylan-influenced introspection that betrayed the group's growing disillusion with being loveable Mop Tops.

The music, even after a quarter of a century, is the film's redemption.