The Beatles--the world's most famous rock and roll band--travel from their home town of Liverpool to London to perform in a television broadcast. Along the way they must rescue Paul's unconventional grandfather from various misadventures and drummer Ringo goes missing just before the crucial concert. Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Fun and inventive- a magical musical which stands outside its time
"A Hard Day's Night" doesn't seem dated now, but it does seem familiar. We're used to all its madcap editing and photography now thanks to television and music videos, and we can only sit back and imagine (or try to remember) what it looked like through eyes that had never seen anything like it before. Watching it today, "A Hard Day's Night" still seems fresh and original, because it's still different (we're used to music videos, but not feature-length music videos), but to the 1960's audience it would have seemed entirely different from anything they had previously seen (especially if they were expecting a traditional rock musical, considering that the only good one of those made prior to this which I've seen is "Go Johnny Go").
Lester infuses the film with nonstop quick cutting and energetic pacing, giving the film an almost documentary-like feel (and somehow managing to integrate the biggest pop band in the world into the French 'nouvelle vague' style of film-making). When Orson Welles was interviewed in Playboy magazine in 1967 he said that the film directors that appealed to him the most were 'the old masters- by which I mean John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford. With Ford at his best you feel that the movie had lived and breathed in the real world, even though it may have been written by mother Machree'. When questioned about younger directors he enjoyed the most he named Stanley Kubrick and Richard Lester.
It seems absurd after Kubrick's long and distinguished career and Lester's career which while featuring some famously good films, also includes "Butch and Sundance: The Early Days" (a cheap prequel with none of the original cast), and the notoriously horrible "Superman III" to compare the two directors, but looking at Welles' reasoning behind loving John Ford films, it all makes sense. "A Hard Day's Night" really does feel real, we are basically transported into a day in The Beatles' life and given a VIP pass to accompany them wherever they go. It's a fascinating adventure which the screenplay handles very well.
The Beatles were not actors, but they really come off as themselves because all they have to be is the cocky, wisecracking, and rather charming men they were in real life. The screenwriter is smart enough not to provide them with any real acting, which really helps the film. That's not to say there isn't any good acting in the film, quite to the contrary actually, since Wilfrid Bramble is hilarious as McCartney's grandfather and was presumably cast thanks to his very funny co-starring role on Britcom "Steptoe and Son", which was one of the shows I frequently watched as a kid (and was remade for American audiences as "Sanford and Son").
The film is effortlessly charming, relying on the Beatles' natural charisma to carry the film but also including enough wit to warrant comparisons to later great British comedies and also to the later Beatles films (including Lester's later, slightly funnier and more experimental "Help!"). The Beatles were not yet the musical innovators they would later become, but there's something I personally prefer about their simple, short, and perfect Merseybeat songs, especially those on this soundtrack, which contains some of the most joyous and memorable pop songs ever written.
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