Dear reader, I ask you, have you ever wanted to see English pop/rock band The Beatles perform in a field surrounded by tanks? Or flail around in a bathroom as they struggle to avoid being sucked into a hand dryer? No? You haven't? Well even so, I encourage you to watch their movies.
A Hard Day's Night was the first Beatles movie that came out. Set during the height of Beatlemania, the film opens with a long scene of The Beatles running from fans while the titular song plays in the background. As it ends, they board a train and sit down, escaping the chaos. They soon notice that an old man is sitting in their private car with them, who Paul tells them is his grandfather. Paul's grandpa is established as an unpredictable and strange sort of fellow: he rarely talks, and when he does, he's doing it to either make people fight or embarrass John and Paul in front of girls they're flirting with in order to ruin their chances.
We see a typical day in the life, where they do a bunch of normal things, like play cards in a jail cell on a train, watch John splash around in the bathtub, and run around in a privately owned field for the entire two minute and eleven-second runtime of "Can't Buy Me Love." Paul's grandpa tries to sell forged copies of the Beatles' autographs, Ringo nearly kills a bird while playing darts, the other three band members break him out of the police station, and then the four perform together and the movie ends.
The more I think about this movie, the more I enjoy it. The "plot", if you can even call it one, is incoherent and lacks a beginning, middle, and end, but does so in the best way possible. While some people might see this as a bad thing, I don't mind it as it allows the movie to be nonsensical, silly, and actually funny sometimes, too.
It's not a laugh-out-loud comedy with specific punchlines, but a lot of it is cleverly written. John, especially, is entertaining in this movie because of the way he subtly messes with other people by saying things that make completely no sense. Lots of things happen that I didn't get to mention in my synopsis of it that are thoroughly entertaining. Most of the humor comes from the randomness and unexpectedness of the nonsense that occurs onscreen.
Help!, their second movie, takes all of the absurd and bizarre elements of A Hard Day's Night and cranks them up from eleven to a hundred. The main thing driving the movie along is the fact that Ringo mysteriously has a ring stuck to his finger that makes a cult want to sacrifice him to their god. According to their religion, whoever has the ring must be sacrificed. As the Beatles try to remove the ring while being chased by cult members, they interact with mad scientists, go skiing in the alps, visit the Bahamas, and run through a battlefield where they have to dodge machine gun fire. Suffice to say, just like its predecessor, this movie is incredibly weird. And I love it.
The absurdist humor is much more over-the-top than in A Hard Day's Night. A Hard Day's Night is something I might consider "subtle absurdism": everything is played off in a toned-down way, and the movie itself seems oblivious to the fact that it's so weird. Help!, on the other hand, is so over-the-top, and is arguably less… mature? I know that immaturity has a negative connotation, but I don't mean it badly at all, that's just the way I could best describe it. Both movies, especially Help!, strongly remind me of Monty Python. An intermission gag from Help!, specifically, is so reminiscent of the comedy group. At first, I thought that this influence made sense and that they were both popular around the same time, but upon further research, it turns out that Monty Python's Flying Circus didn't air until 1969, and their first movie didn't come out for another two years. These two Beatles movies came out in 1964 and 1965, respectively. From my five minutes of wikipedia research, I couldn't find anything saying that Monty Python was influenced by the Beatles, which I find hard to believe. Something interesting, though, is the fact that George Harrison had a cameo in Life of Brian and was a big fan of the group that created it.
If I had to choose a favorite, I think it would have to be Help, but only by a margin. I do think that I might be biased in this, however, because going into A Hard Day's Night I expected (and remembered it being, from the time I viewed it in third grade) to not have anywhere near the amount of absurdity as it did, whereas going into Help!, I fully expected it to be weird as hell and was completely prepared for all of its shenanigans. That being said, I do think that Help! was overall more funny, and while I appreciate the more subtle, restrained absurdism present in A Hard Day's Night, I also love the absolute chaos of their subsequent film.
In the end, I really enjoy both of these films. In terms of who I'd recommend them to, however you feel about Monty Python is probably how you'll feel about these movies as well. Both movies are fascinating insights into the Beatles' minds and senses of humor, as well as purely entertaining pieces of media. And yes, I know that there's a Yellow Submarine movie which is their most well-known, and there's also a Magical Mystery Tour movie, which is really more of a TV special, as it was aired straight to television and is only forty minutes long. I haven't seen the former in a long time, and I've never seen the latter in my life, although I'm intrigued simply because it's my favorite Beatles album. Maybe I'll talk about these two films at some point as well, but until then, why don't you busy yourself by watching the ones that I have talked about.
A Hard Day's Night can be streamed on HBO max, while Help! is only (legally) available in physical forms. I was able to check out a DVD from my local library.