Last night I caught the Beatles winking and romping through Help! (as part of VH1 Classic’s nine-day Beatles retrospective). I was reminded of how much, as a kid, I used to love watching that movie, over and over again, on televison — and also of how, as the years have gone by, it has never won much respect, since it’s had to live in the shadow of A Hard Day’s Night. It deserves to, of course. A Hard Day’s Night (1964) is one of the greatest pop-jukebox musicals — scratch that, one of the greatest movies, period — ever made. (Here’s what I said about it when it was re-released in 2000.) It not only captured the sublime excitement of the earthquake that was the early Beatles but showcased the group as if they were gods at play.
Released one year later, in 1965, Help!, in effect, was the sequel, a candy-colored piece of prefab British silliness, with the Beatles, already looking like gods grown a touch blasé, going through the paces of being innocents teetering through a world unhinged by their fame. What startled me a bit, seeing Help! last night for the first time in decades, is that the dementedly frivolous East-meets-West-meets-James-Bond-meets-Beatlemania plot, in which Ringo, wearing a sacrificial ruby ring as big as the Ritz, is pursued by a homicidal sheik named Clang (Leo McKern), whose ragtag band of henchmen are operating “undercover” in London, now plays like a funky ’60s mash-up of the Marx Brothers and al-Qaeda. READ FULL STORY