A Hard Day's Night (1964)
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Only this: "A Hard Day's Night" is good, yes, and significant, but it's fun, too. Still, and above everything else, it's a lot of fun.
"A Hard Day's Night" is probably more responsible for the Beatles' enduring image in our culture than any single song they made. It came out in 1964, within a few short months of the Fab Four's sensational appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show that truly launched them globally, though they had been making great pop music for more than a year which was all the rage across Europe. "Hard Day's Night" captures the band when they were still relatively provincial and innocent, not yet in the "marijuana for breakfast" phase they were well into the following year when they made the zanier "Help!" LSD, Yoko, and the Maharishi were not even on the radar, nor was the psychedelic era the Beatles would usher in less than three years later. Finally "Hard Day's Night" clicked not only with the kids but the adults, who previously viewed the band as a motley band of overplayed haircuts. It gave all the generations of the time something they could agree on. These guys were good.
The story of "Hard Day's Night" is thin by design. We see the Beatles in slightly fictionalized form, with a manager named Norm and a roadie named Shake, traveling by train across England and ducking into a studio to make a TV appearance. Paul has his grandfather along, a codgy old troublemaker who nevertheless is "very clean." The irony of the movie is that the old guy, played by British TV star Wilfrid Brambell, is the one that continually ruffles the feathers of society while the Boys themselves play things fairly straight and legal.
Grandpa has the best take on the meager storyline: "I thought I was supposed to be getting a change of scenery, and so far I've been in a train and a room and car and a room and a room and a room!" Brambell works very well in the film, a needful focal point in a film that requires some bearings in order to work. Of the Beatles themselves, Ringo makes the strongest single impression by showcasing his vulnerable side while John probably has the best moments with his wacky, caustic humor. George shines, too, in a scene with a trend-happy fashion maven, and married one of the girls on the train in real life, so he did pretty well here, too.
Is it the best Beatles film? I think "Yellow Submarine" is better for what it's worth, but "Hard Day's Night" is the best film actually featuring the Beatles for who they were and what they were about.
Great music, too. The sequence on the train with "I Should Have Known Better" still works as a video, with all the baggage-car bric-a-brac thrown in for ambiance. Then there's "Can't Buy Me Love," which shows the Beatles in full-tilt boogie mode after momentarily escaping their studio confines. "And I Love Her" has some of the film's greatest camera work, very moody and intense in its focus on how well the Beatles worked in a TV studio setting.
As a film, "Hard Day's Night" lacks a bit of heart. Not that it's cold or cruel, just a trifle too detached to get enveloped by, the way one does with great cinema. I don't really miss the fact that "Help!" wasn't a true sequel; "Hard Day's Night" works for its 90-plus minutes but doesn't leave you wanting more. The relationships between the band members, and with Grandpa, Norm, and Shake, are left unexplored, and you don't really miss that as much as you maybe should.
But as a collection of small, witty moments interspersed with great music, "Hard Day's Night" is a pleasure through-and-through. Like the scene where John cuts the tailor's measure ("I now declare this bridge open") or has that absurd corridor chat with Anna Quayle ("She looks more like him than I do.") Or when Ringo tells the crotchety train passenger who complains he "fought the war for your sort" that "I bet you're sorry you won!"
If I was to meet Richard Lester I would shake his hand and thank him for recording the Beatles during the middle part of their career when they could entertain but hadn't yet shot off in to outer space. Without this we would have a piece missing from their history - and lets be frank - our history. They changed the world and all they had to change it with were electric guitars and their personalities!
The script is clever in that it showcases the personalities of the group without asking them to do much acting. Wilfred Brambell tags along to give comedy relief and the whole thing fits in plenty of songs that are good - but not as good as what soon followed. They are still tied to the Northern dance halls.
I have always thought that if they had a died in a car crash at this point they would be a mystery to the modern audience - hugely popular at the time - but not particularly stand-out from the other bands around. Like the way we regard Charlie Chaplin or Mary Pickford - both incredibly famous in their prime - but little regarded today.
Whether you like to admit it or not there are three geniuses at work and Ringo Starr. So I guess that it is fitting that Ringo comes across the best of the group: Down-to-earth, chatty, witty and willing to talk to anyone. Even the kids down by the river. John Lennon had a comic wit that could have given him another career had his music not been up to scratch. Talk about being master of the witty comeback.
Anyone watching this film will see London as it really was at the time. Not the swinging sixties that everyone pretends it was. Grubby shops, unpainted windows that look about to fall out of their frames, empty streets bar a few beat up cars.
I guess you could say this is the perfect record of Beatlemania: The driving beat songs (cranked out even quicker on stage), the backstage sieges, the ping-pong put downs that is the hallmark of English humour, the screaming that overpowered the performance. Enjoyable at the time (as light entertainment) it becomes an important historical document now and every generation should see it. Your pop culture education depends on it.
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.
No real plot, just a lot of very lively sequences overflowing with one-liners and non sequiturs. The tone of the scenes go all over the place--one is full of verbal puns, the next visual gags, then absurdity reigns, THEN surrealism! It's a credit to director Richard Lester that he manages to keep all these various shifts in tone flowing smoothly. It's great to see that the Beatles are obviously enjoying themselves every minute. Some of the jokes are obscure (the "clean" jokes were based on remarks made about the Beatles back in 1962) and the accents are sometimes difficult. But it's great to see the Beatles so young and full of life and when they sing the film becomes magical. Also they have a good cast backing them up--Brambell and Spinetti are just great (and very funny). If you don't like the Beatles or their music, you might want to skip this film. But if you do, it's a must-see.
This was the first teenage exploitation film to be far more than just a vehicle for some hit songs; although there are plenty of hits to go around. By today's "N'Sync" and "Brittany Spears" standards The Beatles in this movie are practically avant-garde with a little help from Lester & Owen.
This is the best Beatle film; in "Help" they are basically just stoned on pot the whole time with a terrible plot & characters, and "Yellow Submarine" they hardly had any input other than some leftover songs. And the less said about the "Get Back/Let It Be" project and "Magical Mystery Tour" the better.
Then there's the music--glorious early Beatles!! Some of the best music ever made. This is on my short, short list of best films ever made.
Alongside the mop-tops playing themselves, this energetic movie also features Wilfred Brambell (Albert Steptoe) as Paul's grandad, as well as John Junkin, Victor Spinetti, Deryck Guyler, and eek Lionel Blair. The boys themselves can't really act but can at least play themselves getting fan mail, giving performances, dealing with kooky fans, a typical day in the life'.
A Hard Day's Night' is fun and perhaps the most accessible of their films to non-Beatles fans. I still can't say I rate Paul McCartney though all eyebrows and enormous ego the others come out of this movie better.
As a story, it's very interesting how the film portrays the Beatles as prisoners of their own fame, with an unmistakable wisp of pathos and frustration which is allowed to undergird all the wildness and comedy. This especially comes through in the sequence where Ringo leaves the band to go "parading" and enjoy some freedom (an unconscious foreshadowing of future events to boot, as Ringo was the first Beatle to ever "leave the band" - four years later during the White Album sessions). Yet, the irony is never put forth that the very people who are keeping the Beatles prisoner - their fans - are the ones for whom this movie is made and is being aimed at. A decade later, such a disparity would have forced a punk band such as the Sex Pistols to fire off a massive "F*** You!" to its audience (and, in fact, one rock star did do just this - in film, no less: Roger Waters during the amazing and squirm-inducing "In the Flesh" segment of Pink Floyd The Wall, where a concert of mindlessly adoring fans is compared none too subtly with a Nazi rally).
I'm not saying, of course, that the Beatles should have come out spitting and gobbing at their fans and tearing apart their image in A Hard Day's Night. This would have been impossible to do in mainstream cinema in 1964, anyway. What I'm saying is that by introducing such a glaring irony and then failing to deal with it in any way, the film asserts itself solidly as a product of its times and nothing more - no great and enduring piece of art, certainly. In some ways, the next year's followup, Help!, was the better film because it did not try to be anything more than a madcap Beatle travelogue (and succeeded admirably, with its pristine color, beautiful locales, and clever comic moments - although its setups do get a bit monotonous after awhile).
Of course, A Hard Day's Night *will* endure - simply because THE BEATLES endure, and this gives us the best sustained look at their performing prowess and all-around joie de vivre. The musical sequences in the film are simply glorious, particularly the orgiastic concert at the end, but even more muted moments such as when the Beatles sneak off to a nightclub to dance and intermingle with other youths to the soundtrack of their own songs; the scene provides a wonderful "you are there" quality to the partying and club-hopping side of Swinging London circa 1964. But a film's overall quality, I say, must be judged by its ability to be a complete and satisfying whole, not just as a vehicle to show off the talents and charm of its central figure or figures (otherwise, by that measure, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective would have to be preserved and championed as one of America's greatest contributions to world cinema).
So what am I saying, finally? A Hard Day's Night - if you are a Beatle fan it is essential; see it, enjoy it, revel in their youth and vitality as often and as passionately as you want. Just don't allow your enthusiasm for the group to confuse this with a great film.
(btw: If you wish to experience the group's charm and musical euphoria of this time full on, without the intrusions of a tacked on plot or supplementary characters, check out the wonderful documentary "The Beatles' First U.S. Visit". Done by the Maysles brothers - the duo behind the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" later in the decade - the film captures all the excitement [and footage] of the Beatles' triumphant arrival in America, including all their Ed Sullivan appearances, various backstage reflections and shenanigans, and an extended, supercharged sequence of their concert at Washington Coliseum. For my money, this film is even MORE essential than A Hard Day's Night; it is, quite simply, the best extended visual document of the Beatles that we have.)
Screenwriter Alun Owen spent some time with the Fab Four in late 1963, when a phenomenon christened "Beatlemania" was descending all across Great Britain. He began to get a good idea of their individual personalities and what he wanted to write for a proposed film which would start production sometime in March, 1964. Even more appropriately, the Beatles' world-astounding popularity soared still further in the interim, after they set foot on American soil in February of '64 and became household names. The market was ripe for this film, which it was decided would show the rigors of a typical day in the life of the band at the peak of their stardom.
The resulting motion picture was funny, clever, delightful and of course, musical. John Lennon and Paul McCartney penned several songs for inclusion in the film, all of them winners and two of which easily became #1 hits ("Can't Buy Me Love" as well as the title tune, which was actually made-to-order overnight after producer Walter Shenson asked for a song called "A Hard Day's Night" which could run along with the credits). The film is very British, and the decision to photograph in black and white nicely compliments the aura of England. The Beatles are shown traveling from gig to gig, performing music, doing interviews, trying to outsmart legions of adoring fans, and generally trying to have a good time amidst all the insanity. While the Beatles themselves were not professional actors, they hardly had to be as they were essentially just being themselves, albeit exaggerated caricatures: John the sarcastic and witty one, Paul the professional lady's man, George the quiet cynic, and Ringo the lovable but mistreated clown. Elder British comedian Wilfrid Brambell was also cast as Paul's meddling "very clean old grandfather", and is often humorous to watch, getting involved in all sorts of mischief, though perhaps the necessity of his character being added to the formula would be open to debate.
A HARD DAY'S NIGHT is a special account of a very wonderful, if fleeting, moment from our entertainment history. We are very lucky to have this record of those special days to take us back and enjoy throughout the many different times yet to come.
**** out of ****
I've loved the Beatles for as long as I can remember, and I love this movie because of that. I also really groove to the black and white photography, and Richard Lester's jittery, cutting edge camera style (influenced I suppose by the realistic films of Tony Richardson). The mix of mad cap energy and straight ahead songs is fun, and it goes places Elvis movies never did just for creativity and fun. The Beatles are way more edgy but they come off as not a bit jaded or spoiled, none of the bad-boy rocker stuff that gets old fast. In fact, A Hard Day's Night reminds you just how fresh and light the Beatles were in those first couple of years.
There, that is said. Now for the truth about the movie as a narrative film, which I think it has some vague idea it wants to be (music aside). It bumbles around and plays with old (even then) tricks of picking on the old fashioned Britons in a comic way. I sometimes found myself trying to let one scene lead to the next, and really that's not the idea. The happy zany inter- scenes between songs are just inventive, fun, craziness. That probably enough, but if you've seen the movie a couple times already like I have, or if you don't automatically like the Beatles enough just to watch them for who they are, you will probably find your mind drifting. Not that it's not exciting. It's just aimless excitement.
There, now that is said, too. So back to the start. What a fun, uplifting, non-conformist, sharp movie. Nice to see a genuine sense of humor are work, and a bunch of not-so-clean lads letting 'er rip.
This modest-budgeted 1964 black-and-white film allegedly documents a "typical" day in the life of the Beatles. Whilst I'm aware that much of it was greatly exaggerated and dramatised for its portrayal on screen, I'm fairly certain that one thing has remained fairly accurate - the vast hoards of incessantly screaming teenage female fans who flock around the four performers, either during performances or in public. At the height of Beatlemania, I wouldn't be surprised if such scenes actually occurred on a regular basis.
The four young actors of the band, who I, quite obviously, don't need to name, are not the most talented of actors, but they perform adequately. The screenplay simply calls for them to act as themselves, and this they do quite well. Norman Rossington is good as Norm - the Beatles' manager - and Wilfrid Brambell is hilarious as Paul McCartney's "other grandfather," who has joined the band's travels for a "change of scenery." 'A Hard Day's Life' is an interesting little film, full of moments of joy and laughter and drama - and let us not forget the excellent soundtrack of (you guessed it) Beatles songs! It is not, in any real way, a groundbreaking film, though I've heard that the performance scenes greatly influenced how music videos were filmed at the time.
However, if, like me, you were unfortunate enough to have missed out on the 1960s, and you've been wondering why the Beatles were as big as they were, this is your definitive answer!
I have seen this film four times... at four different times of my life, and I appreciate it more each time.
Naturally I laughed and enjoyed the music when I saw it as a young teen. Then when I was about 17 they actually had it TV and I appreciated it more, being a more seasoned Beatles fan. And as an adult, and a parent, I love this story.
You probably know the story -- a couple of days in the life of the Fab Four on tour, mobbed by fans, living in hotels, travelling on a train. The musical numbers just fit right into the story, just like a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers classic. I think this movie is great because it was made in the finest tradition of British comedy -- namely, we can all have a laugh at ourselves. I love the scene where George is interviewed by some advertising mogul about what young people like, and gives a rather nasty opinion about a TV show that's supposed to be the hottest teen program.
Having Paul's grandfather was a stroke of genius. What a great character actor he was, always getting into trouble, and trying to get the boys in trouble too. And of course, the scene where Ringo is wandering around aimlessly, slightly hung over! Actually, I read that he says he was pretty hung over at the time.
Hard Day's Night was the best of all the Beatles films. I think "Help" is OK, but lacks the spontanaety of "Hard Day's Night." "Magical Mystery Tour" had a great premise, great music, two interesting videos, but fizzled because the Beatles tried directing it themselves, with no experience. "Let it Be" was interesting to watch, almost as a documentary, and "Yellow Submarine" was actually very good, but you had to suspend all rules of conventional thinking. Many viewers had "a little help from their friends" although I personally don't believe in that stuff.
It just shows that the Beatles really were the very best rock band in history -- there was a magic that only John, Paul, George,and Ringo together could make. Made on a low budget and tight schedule, I have to say the directing, script (ad libs?), singing, and acting were superb. Compare this to pathetic attempts by other bands -- "Spice World" -- Spare me!
"A Hard Day's Night" will still be one of the all-time classic films a century from now, like "Citizen Kane," "The Band Wagon," or "Swing Time." Definitely a TEN!!!
It is hard to believe that some IMDB voters gave it lesser ratings. I've found in the past that many people who don't appreciate the film have trouble hearing the dialog. So do your friends a favor and turn on the subtitles the first time through.