Richard Lester John Seelye - Essay

John Seelye

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There is, I would say, very little of the censor laws' "redeeming social significance" [in Help!]. Unlike Hard Day's Night, which by means of a picaresque structure ran through a series of wonderful satiric sketches, Help! is a hapless farce from beginning to end, with many a limp-wristed flap at expected targets: mad science, Scotland Yard, James Bond movies. Even Terry Southern gets a fingery flutter. But there is no point, no bite, no edge. It's cotton candy, and in wide-screen Technicolor. From the few side remarks that I caught—and the Liverpuddlian accents still muffle a lot of meaning—the thing may be one huge in-joke, hinging on the farcical plot in which a fat caliph tries to recover a mystical ring now being worn by the unknowing Ringo. (pp. 57-8)

In all truth, however, there is little cause for complaint. The film was made for Beatle fans, like all the rest of the paraphernalia of magazines, wigs, photographs, posters. We can rejoice that it never stoops to the Elvis-epicac level, that it is sumptuous, expensive, unsparing in color, sound, and all the sensuous elements available to the modern film-maker. There is no feeling of vulgar waste, moreover—except as a monument or a circus involves a certain amount of conspicuous redundance—no sense of film-flam. You go and you have a good time, without feeling that you are being pandered to. Still, the first Beatle film was made for the same audience, and it somehow transcended its own purpose. (p. 58)

John Seelye, "'Help!'" in Film Quarterly (copyright 1965 by The Regents of the University of California; reprinted by permission of the University of California Press), Vol. XIX, No. 1, Fall, 1965, pp. 57-8.