For, June 28, 2013

"Help!" is on the way.

Well, actually, it's here … again … but that was the tagline on the posters for the Beatles' second movie, originally released in 1965. It was their first in color, and like "A Hard Day's Night" a year earlier, was directed by avant-garde comedy genius Richard Lester.

The very loose storyline has members of an Eastern religious cult pursuing Ringo, who is wearing a garish ring that cult members want to put on the finger of a young woman to be sacrificed. Naturally, Ringo can't get the ring off, but that won't stop the bad guys, led by the hilarious Leo McKern (after hearing his fractured accent, my friends and I forever referred to the Beatles as "The Be-atles").

Of course, this wire-thin plot is merely a device on which to hang their deadpan sense of humor, interspersed with a variety of Beatles songs, performed music-video style. And the movie is stuffed with sight gags, non-sequiturs, puns, movie spoofs (especially James Bond) and general zaniness.

There seems little doubt that "Help!" was an inspiration for the abstract madness of Monty Python, which came along a few years later, as well as the many comic rock-music videos that would follow. It also gave permission to future filmmakers to allow absurdity to reach off-kilter, obtuse and/or surreal heights. (Not that it was the first to do so; "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!" both owe something to the Marx Brothers, Olsen & Johnson's "Hellzapoppin'," and British radio's "The Goon Show," whose cast included a young unknown comedian named Peter Sellers.)

This newly released Blu-ray (Apple/Capitol, G, $29.98, deleted scene, featurettes, trailers, radio spots; 16-page booklet) has all the same bonus features as the previous two-disc DVD, but the hi-def picture looks spectacular and the stereo is nicely mixed. If you're a Beatles fan and are into Blu-ray, this is definitely worth the upgrade.

Watching it again simultaneously took me back to my teenage years when this film was initially issued and renewed my respect for the Fab Four's talent, both as a group and as individuals. It's fun to see them singing and cavorting and investing "Help!" with so much joy that it's just a great time at the movies.