A Hard Day’s Night

A Hard Day's Night photo starrating-4stars.jpgIt was fifty years ago today…well August 11, 1964 to be exact….that the picture A Hard Day’s Night was unleashed onto the American public. The soundtrack was The Beatles’ third studio album. Beatlemania was already in full swing and the teen public’s hunger for anything having to do with the British phenomenon was insatiable.

After signing them to a 3 picture deal, United Artists could have put anything out with John, Paul, George and Ringo in it and it would’ve been a success.  The surprise was that A Hard Day’s Night was actually quite good on its own merits. The production was helmed by an American movie director based in Britain named Richard Lester. He had created a short called The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film starting Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan. The Beatles loved it and selected him from handful of choices to direct their first feature.

The plot for this mock-documentary is simple. It’s a day in the life. The Beatles, playing themselves, are on their way to perform on a London TV show. The ongoing constant is that the Fab Four are eternally having to duck hordes of screaming fans at every stop. They board a train, get settled at their hotel, rehearse at the studio. Then Ringo gets separated from the group. Along the way on their various lightweight adventures, the Beatles display a charisma that is irresistible. The script is filled with little exchanges like the following.

Reporter: Are you a mod or a rocker?
Ringo: Um, no. I’m a mocker.

A Hard Day’s Night is not particularly deep but it is fun – displaying an irreverent charm that is joyous. The Beatles come across as likable and witty. It simplifies their personalities and then amplifies them in short easy to digest sound bites. Yes, they are caricatures of their personas but these are appealing distortions of themselves. The production is highlighted by a manic energy. There are a lot of funny bits contained within. My favorite: Ringo puts his coat down for a girl so that she can walk across a muddy puddle several times before she ultimately falls down a deep hole. Oh and let’s not forget the music! As far as this Beatles fan is concerned, every song is gold, but highlights include: “If I Fell”, “And I Love Her”, “She Loves You” and the title hit of course. Incidentally “I’ll Cry Instead” was excised from the sketch where the Beatles flee their hotel room via the fire escape. It can still be found on the soundtrack. However the more upbeat “Can’t Buy Me Love” was used in its place because Richard Lester felt the tune suited the scene better.

The cultural impact of the film cannot be underestimated. Its importance was immediately understood even garnering two Academy Award nominations at the time (Best Original Screenplay and Best Score). Although uncomplicated and seemingly insignificant, the narrative had an impact on spy thrillers like Dr. No, inspired 60s TV sitcom The Monkees and influenced later day pop music videos. It additionally makes a strong case as to why the Beatles became a worldwide sensation.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of A Hard Day’s Night, a spectacular new restoration was released to theaters on July 4th by Janus Films. If you can’t make it to the cinema, Criterion Collection has assembled a special new edition on DVD and Blu-ray. You’ll marvel at the stunning black-and-white cinematography. Please re-discover this classic.

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13 Responses to “A Hard Day’s Night”

  1. I love The Beatles – this film is basically one long music video and it is fabulous! Have you seen ‘Help!’? It has far more random and bizarre humour in places, but has a wonderful soundtrack and is well worth a watch.

    • I have seen Help! I did enjoy it but you’re right, it’s much different. A Hard Day’s Night is upbeat and optimistic. The tone of Help! is suspicious of fame and much more sinister. It was as if the Beatles had grown a bit wary of celebrity.

  2. I love your Sgt. Pepper’s reference at the beginning of this review!

    I’m a head-over-heels Beatles fan. I was actually introduced to them by my mother and my uncle when I was as young as three or four years old, and I became quickly obsessed with them. Because of their British accents, and my toddler mind, I didn’t always understand what they were saying (i.e. I thought “Can’t Buy Me Love” was “Can’t Bunny Love”), but I ALWAYS listened to their music. I’m actually kind of surprised that my parents let me listen to some of their music, though I guess it’s fair to assume that I wouldn’t have suspected there was any LSD in the making of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and that a four-year-old would never think to interpret The White Album the way The Manson Family did.

    In short, I’m just a really, really big Beatles fan, even today, and while I feel that a surprising lot of their best music was released outside of albums (i.e. “Love Me Do”, “She Loves You/Sie Liebt Dich”, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand/Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand”, “I Feel Fine”, and “Day Tripper”), there’s still quite a load of wonders to behold, particularly on the stuff that came before Bob Dylan introduced them to marijuana. (Not that their more psychedelic music isn’t absolutely awesome though.)

    Something I read in Rolling Stone recently (speaking of Bob Dylan 🙂 ) was that the chords the Beatles used were part of what set them apart from any other group of the time, and even today. It’s amazing how if you listen to their music, or even look at how it’s played on the lead/rhythm guitars, it contrasts dynamically with anything else you’ve ever heard. Maybe it was just me, but realizing this was an “ah! no wonder” type of moment.

    I’m really, really, really rambling here, sorry. But what I”m trying to say is that I love the Beatles. I saw A Hard Day’s Night a while back, and I hardly remember it. Thank you for reminding me of it. I think it’s probably time I watch it again.

    Their film, Help!, though, is definitely something I can do without watching again…

    • I can relate. I first saw the animated film Yellow Submarine at an extremely impressionable age and it captivated me like nothing I had ever seen up to that point. My Dad’s copy of Sgt. Pepper was my favorite album as a child.

      I had a bit of trouble understanding the Beatles in this movie actually. Their accents are quite thick and there are times where their pronunciation/phrasing kind of obscures what they are saying….at least to my American ears.

      Great observations Alexander!!

      P.S. Can’t Bunny Love…that’s hilarious!

      • Thank you! And great review, I think I forgot to put that in all the mess I wrote. 🙂 Glad to see you discovered the Beatles so young as well!

    • I keep singing “Can’t bunny love”, when I hear that song now. That’s funny.

  3. “He’s a very clean man.” The grandad was the best character.

    • Ha ha. The actor’s name was Wilfrid Brambell. He was best known for the UK sitcom Steptoe and Son (1962–1974). The TV show was the basis for the American remake Sanford and Son (1972–1977).

  4. I really enjoyed this day in the life of The Beatles. I wasn’t the biggest fan growing up, but I knew how famous they were. I loved the Sergeant Pepper album especially. It was fun to see the personalities of each member. I didn’t realize John Lennon was so animated. He was my favorite. The music was, of course, the best part 3 1/2 stars

  5. Never felt compelled to see A Hard Day’s Night since I’m not a huge fan of The Beatles, but it sounds like fun based on your review. Seems like it was really clever in a way that we’d describe as meta nowadays, which I find fascinating. I’ll be sure to check it out.

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