Help! is the Beatles' all-out try at carving a new career as a screen team before their long love affair with the squealers dies out. As such, it is a failure, for as actors they are still nothing but Beatles, without enough characterizationor even caricaturizationto play anything but sight gags.
But the production is something else again. The charm and experimental spontaneity of A Hard Day's Night has here been replaced by highly professional, carefully calculated camera work and cutting, plus a story line made out of finely wrought jack-in-the-boxes.
Here the Beatles are pursued by a band of bloodthirsty Orientals bent on making a human sacrifice out of Ringo, who has become inextricably attached to a mysterious ring. There they are superpursued by a mad scientist who is convinced that the ring will enable him to rule the world. Between here and there, the Beatles romp triumphantly through trap doors, poison gas, poisoned arrows, death rays, flamethrowers, shrinking drugs, a man-eating tiger and a men's-room hand dryer that goes into reverse with suction so strong that it pulls the plumbing off the walls.
The boys zip in and out of settings that include Buckingham Palace and their own fun-house apartment, which is carpeted with wall-to-wall grass kept mowed by a gaitered rustic. Meanwhile, the color camera dances in and out of focus, zooms up and away, tilts with the music, splashes light like liquid, and cuts so fast from this to that that the effect is almost subliminal.
Help!, in short, is a Beatle production rather than a Beatle movie. It must have cost, as the British say, a packet. It will certainly make, as the Americans say, a bundle.