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  Help! Lord of the Ringo
Year: 1965
Director: Richard Lester
Stars: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Leo McKern, Eleanor Bron, Victor Spinetti, Roy Kinnear, Patrick Cargill, John Bluthal, Alfie Bass, Warren Mitchell, Peter Copley, Bruce Lacey, Ronnie Brody, Dandy Nichols, Gretchen Franklin
Genre: Musical, Comedy, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 3 votes)
Review: A sacred religious rite is about to begin, and the high priest, Clang (Leo McKern), recites the incantation and advances on the sacrificial victim with a dagger. But wait, there's something not quite right - the sacrifice isn't wearing the special jeweled ring and the ceremony has to be postponed. So who owns the ring now? None other than Ringo Starr, drummer with popular pop band The Beatles and when Clang has film projected of the band performing the ring is there for all to see on Ringo's finger. Meanwhile, the Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and of course Ringo, are returning to the home they share, little knowing of the far fetched attempts of the cult members to get back their ring...

The first film The Beatles starred in was A Hard Day's Night, considered a great success all round and showing off the stars to their best advantage. For the follow up, the problem was evidently where to go next with them as they couldn't simply repeat the formula exactly so what they apparently did was get scriptwriters Marc Behm and Charles Wood to fashion a movie version of The Goon Show for them to star in (director Richard Lester had previously made films with the Goons). The storyline, such as it is, rambles around looking more concerned with giving the band nice holidays than coming up with a coherent plot.

But as far as surreal, nonsense humour goes, Help! is inventive and at times laugh out loud funny. Most of the action is taken up with the cult members going to great lengths to secure the ring which remains stubbornly attached to its current owner's finger: not even Ringo can get rid of it, something which he is concerned about considering his life is now in danger. After their suspicions are raised (by post boxes and vending machines grabbing Ringo's hand), the Beatles venture to three locations to find out more. First an Indian restaurant which isn't run by Indians, then a jeweller whose tools are broken by the ring, and finally two scientists, Foot (Victor Spinetti) and Algernon (Roy Kinnear) who take a great interest.

So great that they go to similar lengths as the cultists to get their hands on the bauble. The British 1960s love affair with "The Mystic East" is in evidence here, or what became Harrison's love affair with it at any rate, and colours the comedy, although no Asian actors are given important roles, with, for example, Eleanor Bron as Ahme, the cultist who secretly helps out the Fab Four. But it's really just a showcase for the band to mutter and quip their way through various unlikely situations, despite here displaying less of their personalities than we saw in their first film - they could have changed roles halfway through and nobody would have noticed.

Then there's the music, and regular breaks for the famous songs are included throughout, looking like nascent pop videos. "Ticket to Ride" is the most celebrated sequence, with the group messing about on skis, but others like "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" (serenading Bron) and "The Night Before" (on an army training ground surrounded by tanks) are just as effective. There are funny lines ("What's your electric bill like?") and imaginative bits (Paul is shrunk during a fight), but Help! does begin to drag eventually, with ninety minutes of relentless silliness a bit too much to take. However, as a pop culture artefact, it's full of interest and even if the Beatles didn't like it much, you might enjoy its idiosyncrasies. Me, I like the way they "ho, ho!" while piled on the sledge. You wouldn't catch Elvis Presley doing that in his films. Additional music by Ken Thorne.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Richard Lester  (1932 - )

American director, from television, in Britain whose initially zany style could give way to genuine suspense and emotion. After making his film debut with short The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film, which featured Goons Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, he went on to throwaway projects like It's Trad, Dad and Mouse on the Moon. His next, however, was a smash hit all over the world: A Hard Day's Night, not least because it had The Beatles as stars.

Lester was at his most successful in the sixties and early seventies, with notable movies like The Knack, Beatles follow up Help!, stage adaptation A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, satire How I Won the War, romance Petulia, weird comedy The Bed Sitting Room, The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers and very British disaster movie Juggernaut.

Efforts like Royal Flash, Robin and Marian, gay bathhouse comedy The Ritz and Cuba made less impact, but in the eighties Lester was called in to salvage the Superman series after Richard Donner walked off Superman II; Lester also directed Superman III. Finders Keepers was a flop comedy, and Return of the Musketeers had a tragic development when one of his regular cast, Roy Kinnear, died while filming. Lester then decided to give up directing, with Paul McCartney concert Get Back his last film.

 
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