As if the British Invasion wasn’t adventure enough, The Beatles would soon find themselves fighting an evil cult and saving Ringo Starr from ritual sacrifice with little more than their cheeky British humor.
Help! was the band’s second feature film with the soundtrack released as an album, also called Help! Production of the film began with a flight to the Bahamas on February 23, 1965, and its Royal World Premiere occurred at the London Pavilion Theater on July 29, 1965.
In the 2005 book Shout! The Beatles in Their Generation, author Philip Norman writes that The Beatles said the film was inspired by the Marx Brothers’ anarchic comedy film Duck Soup. The film also heavily satirized the James Bond 007 films, writes Kenneth Womack in Reading the Beatles. Coincidentally, the film’s distributor United Artists also held the rights to the Bond series.
The humor of the film was also often said to be influenced by the abstract humor of The Goon Show, a British radio comedy program. According to Janne Mäkeläm, author the book John Lennon Imagined, the radio program “contributed to a pool of shared experience and a form of identity” shared by its listeners. John Lennon was an ardent fan who often “bewildered his aunt with nonstop imitation and mimicry of various Goon accents.”
Although critical opinion of the film was generally positive, the humor was not always appreciated. Mäkelä cites a 1966 review of the film titled “Beatles Goon It Up Again,” in which the critic wrote, “It is all rather obscure humor and if there are any funny lines then they are obliterated by some of the noises which make up the background.”
Regardless, the Fab Four were united in their humors and welcomed the presence of wild animals, music, and unusual conventions such as the film’s closing statement, a dedication to “Elias Howe, who, in 1846, invented the sewing machine.”
Other critics argued that it tried and failed to exceed the expectations set with their 1964 comedy film A Hard Day’s Night. The boys from Liverpool, on the other hand, would later admit they were a bit bored with their lack of involvement in the production.
Help! I’ve Got the Giggles
To compensate, The Beatles shot the film in a “haze of marijuana.” In the television documentary series The Beatles Anthology, Ringo Starr said, “A hell of a lot of pot was being smoked while we were making the film … We had such hysterics that no one could do anything … It was just that we had a lot of fun in those days.”
In the Beatles Anthology Director’s Cut, Paul McCartney recalled shooting a scene where they group had to quickly turn to the camera and look surprised. He said, “We giggled a lot … It’s OK to get the giggles anywhere else but in films, because the technicians get pissed off with you. They think ‘They’re not very professional.’ Then you start thinking, ‘This isn’t very professional – but we’re having a great laugh.”
Although the film might not be everyone’s cup of tea, its score released as an album of the same name has proven its staying power. In 2012, Rolling Stone Magazine released its definitive list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. After compiling data from two extensive polls, Help! was voted into spot #331. A year later in 2013, the BBC reported that the album finally went platinum after the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), the UK’s recorded music industry’s trade association, changed its sales award rules.
Bob Bonis Lens a Hand (Pun Intended)
Although Bob Bonis wasn’t around to help The Beatles fend off an evil cult, he did help them navigate foreign territory as their U.S. Tour Manager for all three U.S. tours between 1964 and 1966 (he also managed the Rolling Stones’ first five U.S. tours). While looking through the viewfinder of his Leica M3 camera, he was likely more tolerant of the giggles than the film crew was.
As he toured with the Fab Four at the height of Beatlemania, he also worked to capture their rise to fame on film, but one exposure at a time. These rare and previously unreleased photographs are now available for the first time through the Bob Bonis Archive. Each strictly limited edition, fine art photograph is hand numbered, estate embossed, and comes with a Certificate of Authenticity from the GRAMMY Museum® at L.A. LIVE!