You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Beatles’ ‘Help!’ Turns 50 and How They Almost Starred in ‘Lord of the Rings’

There was a lot of hoopla this year over “The Sound of Music,” but that isn’t the only musical celebrating its 50th anniversary.

The Beatles’ “Help!” opened on Aug. 25, 1965, and the general consensus at the time was that it was the second-best Beatles movie ever made.

When the quartet made their film debut in 1964 with “A Hard Day’s Night,” Beatlemania guaranteed box office, but artistic expectations were low. Whenever rock-pop acts had previously hit the bigscreen, they were often in quickie exploitation fare, such as “Don’t Knock the Rock” (featuring Bill Haley & the Comets and Little Richard) and “Twist Around the Clock” (Chubby Checker) or the dozen Elvis Presley movies (with Col. Tom Parker bragging that each film was completed in 15 days).

So “Hard Day’s Night” took everyone by surprise, even earning two Oscar nominations. That set the bar awfully high for “Help!” Critics and audiences were upbeat but not rapturous; it was fun to see the Beatles in color, but reaction was mixed on the idea of the quartet playing themselves but this time with a plot. There was also a bit of backlash stemming from the Beatles receiving royal MBE honors (or honours), with some critics carping that they were too new to be rewarded for their contributions to the British empire. If there was a little disappointment at the time, affection for the film has grown in the past 50 years.

Variety on Aug. 18, 1965, said the budget for “Help!” was roughly three times the $560,000 production budget of “Hard Day’s Night” because the Beatles’ salary had doubled, the film was in color (costlier than B&W) and, instead of filming solely in the U.K., it lensed in Austria and the Bahamas. And, significantly, their share of the profits was increased.

“Help!” (at one point titled “Eight Arms to Hold You”) was a spy spoof scripted by Marc Behm and Charles Wood, about a cult pursuing Ringo’s ring. But, as in the first film, the quartet played themselves.

Both Beatles films were fueled by Americans, producer Walter Shenson and director Richard Lester. Just before “Help!” opened in the U.S., Shenson told Variety that “the boys” want more plot and acting in their third venture. Their philosophy was “Whatever we do, let’s make each picture different.”

That search for difference led them down some weird paths. At that point, the top candidate for their third film was “A Talent for Loving,” a comedy-western based on a novel by Richard Condon, who also wrote the novels “The Manchurian Candidate” and “Prizzi’s Honor.” Shenson admitted that the idea was “problematic,” but said the novel had the right anarchic spirit. Shenson later produced 1969’s “Loving,” starring Richard Widmark and Topol, subbing for two of the Fab Four.

That wasn’t the weirdest project. At one point, the Beatles wanted Stanley Kubrick to direct them in “The Lord of the Rings.” John, Paul, George and Ringo would respectively play Gollum, Frodo, Galdalf and Sam. But J.R.R. Tolkien turned them down. It’s not clear whether Tolkien just realized how unsuited the four would be to a fantasy epic, or whether he had a more personal objection to their noisy practicing. In a letter, he wrote: “In a house three doors away dwells a member of a group of young men who are evidently aiming to turn themselves into a Beatle Group. On days when it falls to his turn to have a practice session the noise is indescribable.”

In his 1965 review of “Help!” Variety’s Richard Gold said the four were engaging, but not yet actors. “They are moneyspinners, but how they develop as artists is a riddle.”

Their three-film contract with United Artists was eventually filled by the 1970 documentary “Let It Be.” (The animated “Yellow Submarine” didn’t count.) Each of the four Beatles appeared separately in films, but acting always took a back seat to their music.

But to the question how they would develop as artists, the answer is that they were in a class by themselves. Musically, each album became an event, including “Revolver,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Magical Mystery Tour,” the White Album, “Abbey Road” and “Let It Be” (1970), their final album. They influenced fashion (from their mod moptop look of the early days to the hippie style later) and introduced the world to meditation and drug experimentation.

When they broke up, the four had only been performing together for eight years. Fans were despondent — but at least by that point, no one was questioning their royal honor or their contributions to the British empire.

More Music

  • Marc Byers

    Execs from Motown, Live Nation, Recording Academy Set to Speak at Culture Creators' Inaugural C2 Summit

    Culture Creators, the organization which recognizes minorities in film, television, music and fashion, is holding its first-ever C2 Summit on Oct. 21 in Washington D.C. Its mission: to engage, mentor, and provide recruitment opportunities to students of color attending historically black colleges and universities. Students were selected from an application process and will participate in [...]

  • Rami Dawod SESAC

    SESAC Toasts Rami Dawod as Pop Songwriter of the Year

    Camila Cabello’s “Never Be The Same” and “Electricity” by Mark Ronson and Silk City featuring Dua Lipa are just a few of the co-writing credits celebrated during an October 16 dinner at Nobu Malibu hosted by SESAC in honor of Rami Dawod. Named Pop Songwriter of the Year by the performance rights organization, Dawod is [...]

  • Luis Fonsi Erika Ender Latin Grammys

    The Second Latin Explosion: How 'Despacito' Ushered in a New Generation of Stars

    Music is an ever-evolving art, and for the Latin Recording Academy, that’s meant riding multiple waves of attention. The most recent arrived with the stratospheric success of “Despacito,” which kicked off a second Latin Explosion with full force in 2017. The Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee hit, later featuring verses by Justin Bieber, made Latin [...]

  • Ricky Martin Celia Cruz Gloria Estefan

    From Idea to Legacy: Latin Grammy Awards Mark 20 Years of Global Recognition

    The idea of creating a separate organization to honor the diversity of Latin music was a discussion that took place for years before it actually happened, but an event driven by one of pop music’s most important crossover artists solidified it. During the 41st Grammy Awards ceremony, a young Ricky Martin was scheduled to perform [...]

  • Taron Egerton Elton John Rocketman Live

    Elton John and Taron Egerton Duet at 'Rocketman' Awards Season Event at the Greek Theatre

    “Rocketman” has officially launched into awards season. Paramount hosted a screening of the film with a live-performance of the score by the Hollywood Symphony Orchestra and a headlining performance by Elton John and the film’s star Taron Egerton. John and Egerton — who is in contention for best actor for his portrayal of the singer [...]

  • BTS 'Good Morning America' TV show,

    BTS Show Love for Lauv and Their Army of Fans in Video for Reworked 'Make It Right'

    Early Friday morning (Oct. 18), BTS gave fans a taste of what their upcoming “comeback” (Korean pop terminology for new music) may be like with a reworked version of “Make It Right.” The Korean boy band collaborated with the American singer-songwriter Lauv, who starts the soulful ballad off with a verse in English. Advocates for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content