Monday, February 2, 2015

You Shall Have Fun, Hey? A Beatles double-feature by Team Bartilucci

Growing up in the Bronx, I watched late-night movies in my elementary school days, but only on weekends, and even then only when my very favorite films were on TV.  In those days, the only movies I enjoyed most aired so late at night (or so early in the morning, depending on your viewpoint) were The Beatles’ first (and best) two films, HELP! (1965) and A Hard Day’s Night (1964). I mention them in backwards chronological order because that was how our WABC affiliate usually showed them. Maybe WABC-TV figured that HELP!  would draw better ratings, being the wackier and more colorful of the two films literally! My fellow late-1960s baby boomers will recall that A Hard Day’s Night was filmed in glorious Black and White), making sure more insomniac Beatles fans would stay up through the …Night for the entire double-feature. My sister Cara and I couldn’t be more different, but our love of The Beatles was one of the few things we had in common. We knew “Beatles” was the name of a band long before we knew A “beetle” was the name of an insect. But I digress!

Grandma Josie would sleep over and sneak in bags of cookies and candy (the fruit-flavored marshmallows were my favorite) for us to munch while we watched the movies on TV, late-night commercials and all. Mom and Dad usually came home by the time A Hard Day’s Night started, and they’d insist that it was long past my bedtime, even for a weekend night. This is why I never saw the whole movie from start to finish until I was in my teens, but it was worth the wait, quickly becoming one of my all-time favorite movies!


According to TCM’s Roger Fristoe, A Hard Day’s Night was a smash (and no wonder!), a film that had personality as well as singing, was a crowd-pleaser which also had the good fortune to have four cheeky yet endearing young stars:  John Lennon, the mischievous  smart-aleck; the likable Paul  McCartney, the boyish heartthrob;  the quiet yet wry-humored George Harrison, a nice young fella whose laid-back comments steal the show in his quiet way; and loveable nebbish Ringo Starr (born Richard Starkey). It didn’t hurt that Director Richard Lester made it for a nimble budget of $500,000 budget!  They’re the Beatles, they’re each likable, smart, and witty, literally making beautiful music together – what’s not to love, as well as talented and hot!  Screenwriter Alun Owen got an Oscar nomination for for his Screenplay and its cheeky, witty dialogue (though My Fair Lady was the winner that year.)

The charm of The Fab Four certainly got them plenty of got mileage from their fame, and even from other new stars in their wake ; hey, the newbies had to eat, too!  But while John, Paul, George and Ringo had plenty of star power and wit, it sure didn’t hurt to have a delightful supporting cast, including:
"So far, I've seen a car and a room, and a TRAIN and a room,
and a ROOM and a room!"

Wilfrid Brambell as Paul's (other) grandfather was ostensibly the film's star, at the time the star of Steptoe and Son, Britain's hottest sitcom, which would come to America years later, with a minor casting change, as Sanford and Son.  The running joke about Paul's grandfather being so "clean" was a play off S&S' catchphrase of the elder Mr. Steptoe being a "FILTHY old man!"

Victor Spinetti is a hoot as the frustrated TV director desperately trying to rein in the chaos of the loveable lads - he'd have better luck lassoing smoke. He swings between boisterous demands for obedience, offers to resign, or fears that if it doesn't go perfectly, he'll end up directing something useless like The Epilogue, (the BBC's traditional end of the broadcast day), or worse, News in Welsh.

Anna Quayle (Chitty Bang Bang-Bang) as a daft fan who John has to convince he's not really him. Eventually she walks away convinced "You don't look like him all like him at all.."   Lennon ad-libs "She looks more like him than I do."

Norman Rossington and John Junkin as the band's frenzied manager Norm and his kindly but "always taller than me" assistant Shake.

The structure of the film is simple, more of a simple skeleton to hang dialogue and wild vignettes on. The Beatles glide merrily though the landscape, a mix of equal parts Marx Brothers, Bugs Bunny, and the Mynah Bird from the Chuck Jones "Inki" cartoons, sowing disarray in their wake.  They are matched only by Paul's Grandfather, sent along to distract him from a broken heart, but spends his time setting various people against each other and enjoying the sparks.

The mayhem starts fast, with The Boys being chased through town (in a sequence that's STILL being copied and "homaged" to this day), ending up on the train to London where the Fab Four (I'm gonna run out of names for these guys any time time now, you know) play merry hell with a stiff-necked Middle-Class City-worker (played by Richard Vernon, who played the man from the treasury in Goldfinger, and years later, Slartibartfast in the TV version of The Hitchhikers' Guide To the Galaxy). 

In town they make their way to the hotel and immediately begin straining at the leash their manager keeps them on. When Paul's grandpa sneaks out to take advantage of Ringo's invitation to a gaming club, the quartet race off to "save" him, only to be retrieved quickly by manager Norm. A whirlwind press conference offers some of the most memorable questions and answers ever, quite an accurate reflection of their real press conferences. In addition to Paul answering every unheard question with "no we're just good friends" there's quoteables like these:

Reporter: Tell me, how did you find America?
John: Turn left at Greenland.

Reporter: Do you think those haircuts have come to stay?
Ringo: Well, this one has, it's stuck on good and proper now (tugs at hair).

Reporter: What would you call that hairstyle?
George: (deadpan) Arthur.
(That's likely the second tip of the hat to mad magazine in the film - Shake is reading the paperback Son of MAD earlier in the movie, and "Arthur" was the name is am avocado plant that popped up inexplicably in the background of many of the proceedings in the magazine.)

"I now declare this bridge open"
Soon they're herded into a TV studio for a variety show program that evening.  All they need do is sit about for a bit between rehearsal and broadcast. Simple.  And the White Star Line expected the Titanic to have an uneventful maiden voyage.   It's at this point the film really opens up - each of the boys get their own chances to shine in what are practically blackout sketches. 
George spends a few minutes scuttling the plans of a marketing whiz (Kenneth Haigh) who he tells that his shirt designs are "dead grotty" and their teen spokewoman Susan is: " A well-known drag"
Ringo "goes parading before it's too late" at Grandpa's urging, and delivers a sad sack mini-performance  that would rival Jackie Gleason. Though it's reported that his dour and pained expression wasn't acting - he was nursing a massive hangover from a hard day's night of drinking the night before!  Maybe that's why Ringo felt pick-on, and not sly Grandfather getting "notions" -- but it's still great fun, with the finale with the lads getting our lads scramlbling all over London!

Shake never learned to shave with a razor, coming  from
"a long line of electricians"
And in between the whole thing are the musical sequences that got director Richard Lester named on of the spiritual fathers of MTV (to which he replied that he wanted a paternity test).
As befits the biggest name of the film, Brambell gets the most "plot" of the film as "Lord" John Mccartney.  He's responsible for inspiring Ringo to go walkabout, and after collecting all the boys' signatures, forges himself a stack of autographed photos and gets in dutch with the peelers, ending up on the booking bench next to young Mr. Starkey. He's the closest the film has to an antagonist - indeed, Paul refers to him as a "villain" right near the beginning.  Once the boys are collected up again (just in time) for the show, the film turns into a mini-concert as they perform before a teeming throng of British youth, which allegedly includes a very young Phil "No Jacket Required" Collins.  It's sort of a thank you to the viewers for sitting through all the narrative, which hopefully by the end they ended up enjoying.  I certainly did.

HELP! (1965)

The Beatles were dragged back before the cameras only a year later for their second film. A bigger budget, more locations, more stars, but the same director, Richard Lester. Lester had experience capturing chaos in a film can - he did The Running Jumping Standing Still Film, starring The Goons (Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Spike Milligan), who were greatly revered by the Liverpudlian Lads.

Now filming in color, and offering a bit more defined plot, the film still offered more than enough room for wackiness and Beatleific behavior.

Originally titled "Eight Arms to Hold You", a title nobody really cared for, but changed so late in the production process that the first single, featuring Ticket to Ride and Yes It Is, says that it's from the upcoming film The film begins in a heathen temple in some heathen country, where a human sacrifice is being offered to Kaili, a non-existent but real-sounding eastern diety, the extra vowel likely added to avoid insult to any remaining Thugees.  The proceedings are halted as the less-than-willing subject is not wearing the sacrificial ring - she secretly mailed to a pop-star in Britain with a predilection for rings, named...? Anyone?

Now, let's not always see the same hands...

Yes, Ringo ends up with the McGuffin stuck on his finger, and gets chased throughout the film by High Priest Clang played by Leo McKern (The Prisoner, Rumpole of the Bailey) and his bevy of assassins, headed (or perhaps hindered) by Ahme, played by Eleanor Bron (Bedazzled). Ringo tries all sort of things to get the ring off, eventually entering the grasping hands of Professor Foot (the returning Victor Spinetti) and his hapless assistant Algernon Roy Kinnear (Williy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory). Foot sees the seemingly indestructible ring as a means to...dare I say it...rule the world - perhaps he was thinking of a certain other Ring.

This was Eleanor Bron's first film - she'd go on to be
one of Britain's grand dames of comedy
The Beatles have a cartoony disconnect from reality in the film.  It starts in their domicile, which from the outside seems to be four contiguous flats in a suburban street of row homes, but from within it's revealed to be on monstrous single room made up of the interiors of the Fab Four, an architectural miracle that we of Team Bartilucci would love to duplicate as soon as that lottery money starts rolling in.  We see a lot more exaggerated physical comedy situations in this film, from the overclocked hand dryer in the men's room to the floor being sawed through under Ringo's drum set as the heathens attempt to initially retrieve the ring, and as the sun sets, attempt to sacrifice the new wearer, AKA The Famous Ringo. Paul is shrunk to the size of a stick of gum in a rather well-done bit of scenery, and Professor Foot uses all sorts of mad contraptions. It's a far more cinematic film than the first one, which maintains a rather grounded state, if rather off-level.

As with the first film, the boys have unique and individual personalities, a practice applied to almost all pop bands in the 60's onward.  Paul is (of course) the dashing lady-killer, George the quiet one, though able to deliver the occasional stinging barb, John the inscrutable trickster god, and Ringo the hapless boob.  Indeed, it's Ringo's cowardice that causes the ring to "cling to your finger like the hunger of a child"

Quite a few more stars of British comedy make a showing in the film.  In addition to the aforementioned, we see Patrick Cargill (Father Dear Father, and another Number Two on The Prisoner) as the Superintendent of Police and a master of mimicry, and Alfie Bass (The Lavender Hill Mob, The Army Game) as the doorman of an Indian restaurant (thank god for British unions).
The film jumps about from the Alps to the Bahamas, for little reason other than the lads had never been there and asked for scenes there so they could get a vacation in.  While in the Alps, the mentioned they'd never been skiing - Richard Lester pressed skis and poles into their hands, telling them to "find a hill and practice".  He filmed the results, which became much of the meat of the Ticket to Ride sequence.

In a gag worthy of The Goons, Clang packs up the entire temple
in crates and ships it to the Bahamas, cause
The Beatles wanted a holiday.
The film is also rife with spy jokes - United Artists was also releasing the Bond films, so there's tons of gags in the film like Clang's  van dropping tacks, Bhuta carrying a sword umbrella, and tossing his turban Oddjob-style.  The score offers a few Bond-ish stings in there, as well as wittily disguised covers of past Beatles songs.  the all-sitar version of A Hard Day's Night is hilarious, especially the first time you realize what it is.


  1. I do not believe I have seen "Help!" since its original release. Leo McKern does shout something about "be-atle persons", doesn't he? I think I'll put that on the 2015 list. I've lost track of the number of times I've seen "A Hard Days Night", but it always works. This was a fun and unexpected way to start the day. Well done!

  2. Another HELP! bit, this one from One of the KAILLI trying and failing to kill the boys at the Indian eatery John: "I always some seasoning in my soup." :-D

    1. Paddy, we're delighted that you're fond of the Fab Four, too -- it always perks up our day at Team Bartilucci, too! HELP! is the next best thing to a sunny vacation! :-D Thanks, my friend, and may your day be chock full of music, fun, and Beatles! :-D

  3. "Help" is Child Bride's favorite Beatles' film . . . and it's hard to deny its appeal, what with extra features such as Leo McKern, Victor Spinetti, Roy Kinnear and the ever-watchable Eleanor Bron ("I can say no more". "Please say no more."). Plus the non-stop patter ("Even the House of Hanover had the wheel").

    But I must confess I prefer "A Hard Day's Night". The humor is much more sly, and the dialogue's nothing to sneer at (George Harrison's line . . . "None of your five-bar gate jumps and over sort of stuff" . . . is almost worth the cost of admission). The brief scene between John Lennon and Anna Quayle deserves to be framed and hung in the Louvre. And as clever and talented as the boys were, Wilfred Brambell almost steals the entire show ("I'm a soldier for the Republic! You'll need the mahogany truncheons on this boyo".

    But your commentary leaves one question. TWO films that I've actually seen (and enjoyed)? Okay, who are you and what have you done with Dorian?

    1. Michael, you wit you! You had me all smiles with your quip: "Okay, who are you and what have you done with Dorian?" I am not what I seem! :-D All kidding aside, the lovely Denise has great taste in movies, even if you prefer A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, but that OK; they're all swell in my book! Thanks for joining the Beatles double-feature, and warmest wishes to all you loveable zanies (a big compliment at Team Bartilucci)!

  4. "A Hard Day's Night" is a musical masterpiece. The editing was innovative at the time and pretty much gave birth to the modern day music video. Additionally, the dialogue is smart and sly. A good example is a scene that got passed the censors of the day. John, of course, is seen during the train ride, sniffing "coke" (a coca cola bottle actually). Apparently, back in 1964, very few got the in joke. The music is great, as it is in both films. However, "Help" always seemed a bit forced and too trendy. Enjoyed, as always, my friend!

  5. John, thanks for your kind kudos for Vinnie and me for our Beatles Double Feature of A Hard Day's Night and HELP! We're especially pleased that you too noticed "Coke" gag! We admit HELP! can be something of crazy quilt, but with The Beatles and that delightful cast, including one of our faves, Eleanor Bron! :-D We hope you and yours have a wonderful weekend, my friend! :-D

  6. I've not seen "Help", but when I was a lass, someone I knew was trying to foster my love of classic film and gave me a VHS copy of "A Hard Day's Night". I felt so sophisticated to have that film, although now I'm not sure where it is!

    Wonderful review, Dor. Your enthusiasm for the Fab Four is infectious!

    1. Ruth, my friend, thanks a million for your praise of Team Bartilucci''s A Hard Day's Night & HELP! Double-Feature! You're kind of gal, but surely you know that, as we're clearly on the same page -- hooray for your great taste! By the way, Vinnie got me the Beatles boxed set as a gift -- such a doll! :-D So if you find yourself with a few bucks to burn and you love John, George, Paul, Ringo, as well as Paul's Grandfather among others the films' various zanies, do watch it -- we think you'll really enjoy it! Thanks a million for dropping by and joining the fun!

  7. Hello. I'm the publisher of a new digital imprint called Dean Street Press and we're shortly to be republishing George Sanders' classic MEMOIRS OF A PROFESSIONAL CAD? Would you be interested in having a copy, possibly for review? Would be great to hear from you by email: Best wishes,

  8. Rupert, we of Team Bartilucci have long been fans of the late, great George Sanders, and we've always wanted to read the Oscar-winner's bio! Yes, we'd very much like to get a review copy! If you have further questions or suggestions, please let us know. We're looking forward to it! :-D

  9. Loved these two films, Dorian, and needless to say, I love your review. Though I lean towards HELP as the favorite of the two. My favorite line which I still use to this day is Eleanor Brom's "I can say no more." Still makes me laugh. She is so wonderful that she practically steals the movie outright. Of course, I love the music in both films equally and the 'tinny' quality of the b/w HARD DAY'S NIGHT.

    1. Yvette, we're always happy when you join us here at Team Bartilucci HQ with your wit and charm! We knew you must be Beatles fans as well! We're also delighted that you're a fan of The Beatles! True, I saw HELP! before I saw the A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, but it was all the more delightful to discover Eleanor Brom, one of our favorite British commedienes! Warmest wishes to you and your dear family, my friend! :-D