Morning, my dear readers, and – as I promised last week – this morning is the second instalment of my Beatles Film Guide. Although a week in real terms since my last post, in Beatles terms we are moving forward a year from 1964 to 1965. Churchill has died. Christine Keeler has done her 9 months in Holloway Prison for perjury (oh, the shame of it) and Dylan has gone electric, the cheeky little blighter. And what has happened to our loveable cheeky Liverpool moptops?
COLOUR. That’s what happened. “Help!” is a jolly caper, completely absurd, a plot which seems to lose the plot, and a series of exotic locations that render the combined Liverpudlian carbon footprint absolutely massive. It is clearly a much more expensive film than A Hard Day’s Night and indulges a surrealist humour that surrounded the group at the time, but which also owes it’s inspiration to the Marx Brother’s “Duck Soup”. Beatles Soup, then. (“Fab” soup?). It starts out as a silly business that doesn’t really mean anything and ends as a silly business that doesn’t really mean anything, but the wonderful soundtrack and jokes on the way excuse the absence of plot. Its peculiar brand of anarchic nonsense seems ahead of its time, the tone of the piece marked by a surrealism that pre-dates Airplane and similar comedy romps by a long chalk. Who needs a plot, anyway, when you’ve got this?
Oddly, this comedy starts with Ringo being the target of a murder via a nameless Eastern religion (now, stick with me, kids. There are giggles, I promise). Anyone who subscribes to this religion is in awe of the Great God Kahili, the higher power of a congregation led by a pre-Rumpole of the Bailey Leo McKern. No one is entirely sure what kind of a cult it is. The sum total of Ringo’s ecclesiastical knowledge is that “It’s a different religion from ours. I think.” He is Ringo; ergo he must wear the ring on which the thin plot hangs. He is the butt of most of the jokes.
Here is the famous Ringo, with his famous Ring. This is his smouldering look, ladies. Brace yourselves.
In the opening scene, the congregation are perturbed to discover that that particular day’s sacrifice victim is not wearing the sacrificial ring. If there’s one thing you don’t want it’s a perturbed congregation. Even worse than that, head congregant Leo McKern has realised that Ringo is wearing the sacrificial ring in a film of The Beatles singing “Help!” which is shown in the temple. Apparently, one of those naughty, flibbertygibbert Beatles groupies must have given it to him or something. Perhaps that’s not all she gave him – Ringo does say “It’s from a fan. I get all sorts.” I bet you do when you are on the road, son. With nothing left for it, Leo McKern decides to go to England to find Ringo and sacrifice him according to custom. He will take Eleanor Bron with him. Off they go. Cue 1960s caper / James Bond parody film.
The Beatles all live together in one house which appears to be four terraced houses knocked together to form a hip and groovy mid-1960s shagpad. They did of course live in Liverpool but have now made pots of cash and have decamped further south to Twickenham, which is where the externals for most of the London scenes were filmed, both in this and in “A Hard Day’s Night”. Here they are in their Beatles Mega House which was actually Nos 5, 7, 9 and 11 Ailsa Avenue, Twickenham. They are showing off their lovely longer lush locks while gazing down at the adoring masses below their bathroom window. George is looking particularly angry at the idea of having to go off and make another film. In the opening scene they arrive at their house and wave at two old ladies across the street. The one who gleefully waves back is Gretchen Franklin, who later went on to find soap opera fame as Ethel in Eastenders. Here, she clearly only has eyes for the Liverpool Wonderkids, her little Willie hasn’t been thought of yet. “Wave! Wave!” she eggs on her friend. “Such lovely boys and so natural.” “Yes!” says her scarily bespectacled friend, “And still the same as they was, before they was.” John sleeps in a sunken bed and Eleanor Bron attacks Ringo’s hand via the back of a sandwich machine. It’s all going on.
In shock at the realisation that Ringo may be killed (many jokes are made throughout this film about his member) they boys go out for a rogan josh at the nearest hostelry. But, lo, the evil Swarmi, a.k.a Leo McKern, resplendent here in Carmen Miranda headgear, arrives with a knife to try to cut off Ringo’s arm. The boys are not best pleased, even if Paul has started to fancy the Eleanor Bron character.
Paul has a cheeky dance with Eleanor Bron in the curry house and hopes Jane Asher doesn’t find out.
When Leo McKern’s henchmen succesfully knock out all the waiters, they pretend to be restaurant musicians. In an echo of things to come, they play a version of “A Hard Day’s Night” on sitars. There is also a cameo in this scene from the actor Jeremy Lloyd, who became a television writer in the 1970s, creating “Are You Being Served?”. He also appears in a Hard Day’s Night as a dancing toff. After Leo McKern and his mob have attempted to smash up the restaurant, Lloyd is the man who happily says to his date “Oh – it’s rather a jolly place!” At least he ended up in the final edit. Both Frankie Howerd and Wendy Richard’s roles ended up on the Beatles cutting room floor. It was only during the transfer of this film onto DVD that footage was unearthed of Frankie Howerd’s and Wendy Richard’s deleted scenes. Here is an image from the deleted footage, with Wendy on the far right:
Meanwhile, back in the final edit version, Eleanor has batted Wendy out of the way by knocking her out using her heavily mascara-ed eyelashes. Having earlier attacked Ringo’s hand, in an unsuccessful attempt to eat the ring, Eleanor Bron has changed her mind and switched sides. She opts to help The Beatles and retires with them for an afternoon’s serenading in the Twickenham superhouse. They obviously really like her, because she’s a pretty girl with pink boots on and stuff, and they individually vie for her attention during a heartfelt rendition of “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”. George is trying very hard here; he thinks the best way to get her pink boots off is to strike a G chord and gawp at her. You’ve got much to learn, Harrison.
John spends the entire film bitching to professionals “You’ve failed, jeweller!” he spits at the posh chap from Aspreys, who can’t get at Ringo’s ring. Two idiot scientists appear in the winning partnership of Roy Kinnear and Victor Spinetti, who John wastes no time in wounding: “You’re another failure, aren’t you, scientist?!” And indeed, he’s right, as the scientists best attempt at getting at Ringo’s ring is this:
Ringo shows all those teenage girls in the Harrow Rex in 1965 what they’ve paid to see. Cor. Pop stars had to iron their underwear in those days you know. Or at least ask Wendy Richard nicely to do it for them. Eleanor Bron’s bizarre suggestion is to shrink Ringo’s hand with an injection, which causes John to turn on her most accusingly, and politically incorrectly, by exclaiming “See what you’ve done, with your filthy Eastern ways.” Blimey, John. Keep your moptop on. But, in the true tradition of capers the syringe slips and Paul inadvertently receives a full dose from Eleanor Bron. Lucky him. This makes him shrink until he sits in the ashtray.
There is nothing for it. The chaps have worked like dogs and frankly, could do with a break. That annoying fundamentalist cult man is still after them. Two weeks at Cilla’s bungalow in Malaga? No, of course not, they’re BEATLES. Six days in Biarritz, singing, skiing and falling into the snow while singing “Ticket To Ride” please.
A shot from the fantastic footage used for “Ticket to Ride”. Some lucky bugger got the job of carrying the grand piano to the top of the mountain (er…Wendy?) whilst John pops out from inside the piano to surprise everyone, but is shocked by the size of Paul’s feet.
Here are the Fab Four, barely concealing their glee at having found the only piano in Switzerland that has 12 legs.
I told you I would inform you of my favourite man suit on a man in a film with a man in it EVER and here it is below, oh yes, it’s John’s olive green corduroy suit with matching debonair cap he wears on the far left here:
This is certainly a hip scene. It’s on Salisbury Plain, following the Beatles return to blighty and an attempt for John to insult yet another person in a professional position when he turns on the Scotland Yard inspector who has been assigned to protect them. “Great Train Robbery, how’s that going?” he asks. Surrounded by cadets on army training (this is not suitably explained in the film) the Beatles sing “I Need You” and “The Night Before”, which is cleverly cut with “She’s A Woman” every eight bars or so. It starts to rain but that does not dampen The Beatles splendour, nor can custom stale their infinite variety. Leo McKern has a go though and tries to blow them up. “I’ve hurt me suit! I’ve hurt me suit!” says Lennon. It’s a tragedy. It may have to go to the tailors. They do whatever any young popster can do, and go and stay in Buckingham Palace. They are readily accepted and just wave their MBEs on the way in.
Of course, the Queen wasn’t that much of a fan. She wasn’t going to let a bunch of ruffians have the run of One’s Royal Palatial Apartments. Anyway, she couldn’t risk Princess Margaret getting wind of it all, because she’d have got the gin bottles out and tried to sit on all the Beatles laps quicker than you could say “Liverpool shuffle”. Instead, the Buckingham Palace scenes were filmed at Cliveden House, just outside Maidenhead, and which was still smarting from the shenanigans of the Profumo Scandal 18 months previously. The group are developing an increasingly mercantile approach to Ringo’s ring. They want to chop his finger off and George has heard that “there’s a good drummer in Manchester”.
John, on location at Cliveden on May 11th 1965, where he enjoyed playing with his new dangling Paul McCartney prototype doll.
After a brief attempt at going for a swift drink in the local pub, which fails, due to Swarmi’s attempts to trap Ringo in the pub cellar with a famous Indian tiger, The Beatles do the only decent thing they can possibly do. They go to The Bahamas and sing “Another Girl”. They attempt to creep away through the airport disguised as old men. Oddly, they all look the way they ended up looking in about 1979. The scientists and the fundamentalists follow them there, however. Here they are, having a truly dreadful time in all that horrid Bahamas weather. On arrival, the boys head to the beach to rendezvous with some lady fans. Ringo guffaws happily at the idea of his imminent sacrifice:
The Beatles attempt to locate the Temple where the Swarmi’s sacrifices take place, but cannot find it. They had attempted running away but a sense of solidarity and justice pervades and they decide to “go back and get ‘em, eh!!” and bicycle viciously in the direction of Swarmi and his gang of fiendish louts. Ringo finds a shell and uses it to try to speak to his mother. The sun’s got to him, poor lad.
The film winds down on a Bahaman beach when Ringo’s ring inadvertently falls off into the sand. “I don’t subscribe to your religion!” he retorts. Oh, yes. Getting quite brave now the ring isn’t actually stuck to him. The scientists, fundamentalists and Scotland Yard Inspector descend upon the beach for the final scene of unadulterated lunacy, soundtracked to a reprise of “Help!”. The film is insensibly dedicated to the inventor of the Singer sewing machine and the end credits are filmed as reflected in myriad sides of a precious stone of the ring that, until now, has been stuck on Ringo’s award-winning and happily-drumming hand. The Beatles sing along to a section of “The Barber of Seville”. The End.
“Help!” is rollickingly good fun, and a filmic step between self-referential commentary on a rock and roll lifestyle (“A Hard Day’s Night”) and rich psychedelia that pervaded the late 60s for The Beatles. The colourings and surrealism are pointing to the rest of the decade, although still buttoned up in single breasted cordoruy suits. The film was released three months after Lennon and Harrison first experienced LSD, when a dentist spiked their drinks at a dinner party. “Help!” is an album that captures The Beatles on the cusp of something extraordinary. It’s the first studio album to include experimentation with classical music and the last which included a cover by any other artist (“Dizzy Miss Lizzy”). The next two albums would be “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver”, both of which were released within one year of “Help!”, and both of which, dare I suggest, are the beginning of Beatles Mark II. In “Help” The Beatles are emerging out of their uniformed selves and diversifying. However, this is also the last “boyish” album, one which resonates with a kind of innocence. “Help” the Movie contains a touching illustration of this naivety; in the Bahama scenes, John wears a woollen jumper and jeans on the sands of the Bahamas, looking like a pale Englishman leaving home for the first time, unaware and unprepared, looking out towards the exotic and unfamiliar horizon ahead.
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