The Beatles' first movie, the black and white masterpiece A Hard Day's Night (1964), captured the young rockers at their playfully anarchic best. And they quickly followed it up with another carefree romp, Help! (1965), this time in full-blast pop art hues, here now restored on DVD to its intended palette of bright primary colors. The American-born Richard Lester helmed both films, but the second was an even greater challenge since it pretended to have a plot, and the Beatles, for their part, pretended to act. The inspired silliness of the film (much fueled by copious pot-smoking, we learn in the DVD extras) follows the boys across continents as Ringo is pursued for his unusual sacrificial ring, a monstrous bauble he can't get off his finger. The supporting cast includes the bulbous-faced Leo McKern (best known for his subsequent long-running role as "Rumpole of the Bailey") as the high priest of some cockamamie Eastern religion; Eleanor Bron as his sultry and duplicitous assistant; and Victor Spinetti as a deranged and underfunded scientist, hoping to rule the world. But the Fabulous Four remain constant in the foreground, goofing off in their ultra-hip pad, sliding all over the Swiss Alps, and soaking up rays in the Bahamas. Seven great songs punctuate this absurdist drama, and each one seems to have presented Lester with a new challenge, as he discovers different styles of matching sounds and images that anticipate everything familiar to us now on MTV. It's no wonder that the channel recognized Lester as its true father, nor that he in turn demanded a paternity test. -

July 22: On this day in 1941, on his twelfth wedding anniversary, Eugene O'Neill presented the just-finished manuscript of Long Day's Journey into Night to his wife, Carlotta.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).

Watching Them Be

What makes a film actor into a larger-than-life movie star? James Harvey's passionate, freewheeling essays explain why there are some faces (from Greta Garbo's to Samuel L. Jackson's) from which we cannot look away.


What if you called up the spouse on the verge of leaving you -- and instead found yourself magically talking to his younger self, the one you first fell for?  Rainbow Rowell, author of the YA smash Eleanor & Park, delivers a sly, enchanting take on 21st-century love.