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In 1964 the popularity of the Beatles had just begun to climb in North America. United Artists decided to cash in on the Beatles popularity and signed a deal with them for three movies in five years. A Hard Day's Night was filmed in less than one week and rushed into theaters where audiences turned it into a huge financial success. One year later, United Artists released the next Beatles movie Help!, this time with a larger budget and more time to shoot. The third movie, Let it Be was made in 1970.
A Hard Day's Night chronicles a day in the life of a successful rock band, complete with screaming fans. The movie was shot in black and white with an extremely small budget, but was a very successful movie. Help!, on the other hand, was shot in color and with a larger budget. Help! also had a more complex storyline involving Ringo being sent a mysterious ring that gets stuck on his finger. The ring belonged to a cult that attempted to paint Ringo red then sacrifice him. If that was not enough, scientists who want to cut Ringo's finger off in order to obtain the material the ring is made of, chase him throughout the rest of the movie.
A Hard Day's Night is generally considered to be the fist rock musical, and Help! is also considered to be a musical. While Help! undoubtedly qualifies as a musical, A Hard Day's Night does not. To understand why one must examine the term musical. A musical is any film in which songs are interspersed throughout the film in order to advance the storyline. As such, the music must be an integral part of the picture. This occurs in Help! when the Beatles are at the ski resort. The song "Help!" is playing while different people are repeatedly ambushing John, Paul, George, and Ringo in order to steal the ring. What they need is someone to help them; just as the line in the song "Help!" goes "Help! I need somebody." In A Hard Day's Night, on the other hand, the song "Can't Buy Me Love" plays as the Beatles gleefully run around, having nothing to do with the story line.
Even though it lacks the essential qualities to be classified as a musical, A Hard Day's Night is actually the better movie. The film provides viewers with insights into the daily lives of the Beatles. Director Richard Lester and the Beatles were a perfect match. Lester and screenwriter Alun Owen allowed the Beatles to contribute their extremely dry, but surprisingly funny comedy, making the film incredibly enjoyable. The cinematography by Gilbert Taylor, which creates a documentary feel through its use of the cinema veritae technique, is great, especially the scenes with the safety razor and the Beatles running down the grated stairs.
Although it is filmed in color, the much zanier Help! does not offer as many laughs as A Hard Day's Night. Despite the return of most of the cast and crew, and the larger budget, the movie is just not as good. The larger budget allows for more visual jokes, may of which fall flat. The story is lacking and the cult chasing Ringo is completely unbelievable. The relationship between A Hard Day's Night and Help! is much like that of Clerks and Mallrats. A Hard Day's Night and Clerks were both low budget movies, that were filmed in black and white, and were better than their follow-ups. Help!, and Mallrats were both shot with larger budgets, in color, and were mildly inferior to their predecessors.