Synopsis: This strikingly original classic captures all the fun, excitement and unforgettable music of John, Paul, George and Ringo at the height of Beatlemania! It’s a wildly irreverent day in the life of the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band! As they prepare for a big TV appearance, the Beatles perform their songs, look for adventure… and try in vain to keep Paul’s mischief-making grandfather out of trouble… all while avoiding hordes of screaming fans! Packed with all-time Beatle favorites including “A Hard Day’s Night,” “All My Loving,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “I Should Have Known Better,” “She Loves You,” and “Tell Me Why,” director Richard Lester’s groundbreaking motion picture collaboration with the “Fab Four” is itself a treasured piece of rock history that remains influential to this day!
eyelights: the ironic, zany, and self-referential humour. the delightful music. its abundant liveliness.
eyesores: the edited concert montage.
“It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’ve been working like a dog. It’s been a hard day’s night; I should be sleeping like a log. But when I get home to you, I find the things that you do will make me feel alright.”
I’m a fan of The Beatles. Not the greatest fan ever (I don’t have Beatles throw pillows or anything like that!), but enough so that I got both of the remastered CDs boxed sets. I also tend to get Beatles-related videos. For instance, I actually have a rare laserdisc of the ‘Let it Be’ film – which has yet to be released on DVD or BD.
But ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ is by far my favourite. I never could understand the appeal of the incredibly incoherent ‘Help!’, or the throwaway ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ and could only barely appreciate ‘Yellow Submarine’ for its psychedelic nature. ‘The Compleat Beatles’ was my next favourite, but it’s long since vanished, co-opted by the ‘Anthology’.
What I like about ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ is its vibrancy. Oh, sure, it’s all fluff, with barely a plot to speak of, but even today it has a zest to it that doesn’t feel contrived. This is no doubt due to the fact that screenwriter Alun Owen spent time with The Beatles and actually adapted and included their everyday dialogues and expressions into the film (except for “grotty”, which he invented).
Further to that, Owen managed to capture a very real moment of The Beatles’ lives at the time, what with Beatlemania (the original title of the picture, apparently) and the way that they were enslaved by it for a time. In so doing, the film only naturally recreated something that they were living daily, making them as comfortable with the settings as they possibly could be – especially for non-actors.
The Beatles’ performances are incredibly naturalistic, all things considered. Even in the most outlandish situations, one gets the sense that they were merely asked to extrapolate on things that they would already be doing. One even has the impression that their characters are very much their own, not personas that have been crafted for audiences.
- Paul: McCartney comes off as the reasonable, affable one of the bunch. While he likes to poke fun he always remains pleasant and courteous. He would have been the one that parents most like or approve of, I’m sure. If anything, he’s brought to life by the character of his grand-father, played by Wilfrid Brambell, who is a wily pest that they bring along everywhere. Without him, Paul would likely seem as bland as milk.
- John: Lennon is by far the most rebellious Beatles here, with a tendency for colouring outside the lines. From his scathing comments, to his peculiar behaviour, to his absurdist exchanges, he is The Beatles unhinged, providing the band with excitement and edge. And yet he also possesses a subtlety that hints at his future pseudo-intellectualism. (As a side-note, Lennon was known for making gay jokes and it is suggested here in a few exchanges. Frankly, I’ve always wondered if there wasn’t a little misplaced self-loathing involved there…)
- George: Harrison is portrayed as reserved but self-confident and serious, which is best exemplified by his one solo sequence in which he is asked by a fashion designer to provide his opinion on some new clothing lines. He doesn’t contribute much to the picture as far as dialogue or humour is concerned, but he still has an unmistakable presence that couldn’t possibly be replaced.
- Ringo: Starr is possibly the most intriguing of the lot, even if he comes off as a depressive simpleton; he just appears as more multilayered than the others. Many jokes are made at his expense, particularly with respect to his looks and personal worth (which would suggest a very solid self-confidence, otherwise he wouldn’t have agreed to taking these shots – especially in public like that). He can be sullen, and yet he also displays the most cheerful vibe of all of them, is easy to brighten up, and is always laughing it up – which would explain why he was extremely popular with the girls. (As a side-note, I think that this seemingly bipolar personality type should have been seen as a warning sign – case-in-point, his later depression and alcoholism).
The opening credit sequence is iconic and has been copied and parodied for 50 years (not least of which in ‘Austin Powers‘). With the strike of the first notes of “A Hard Day’s Night”, we are pulled into (or, more accurately, essentially thrown into!) The Beatles’ manic existence during those crazy years: trying to board a train, our quartet has to dash about pursued by insatiable fans, doing their best to ditch them.
Whether it meant slipping through rows of cars of parked cars to throw the mob off their trail, hiding in phone booths, sitting on a bench reading a concealing newspaper, or simply running for their lives, we immediately get a sense of the excitement surrounding them. Not only that, but we are immediately caught up in it; it looks like a game, like something fun (quite the opposite to reality, no doubt).
Of course, it helps that the title song is so infectious. In fact, the first thing I ever bought by The Beatles was the cassette tape of their critically-acclaimed ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ soundtrack. I think that I had heard one of the songs in a TV advert, thought it was blast, and decided to get it. It’s not as though I didn’t know The Beatles, but this was the first time that I listened to them intently.
It just couldn’t stop listening to it: between the eight mega-classic tunes and the four instrumental ones that were arranged and conducted by George Martin, but based on The Beatles’ songs (I had the North American version of the album), it was basically 30 minutes of non-stop hooks. It was probably the best way to discover the band, because there wasn’t one misfire on the whole tape.
And such is the case with the picture. After the mad opening sequence, The Beatles finally find their way to the train, relaxing on their way to record their television appearance in London. There we are introduced to the band’s manager and his assistant, who will spend the movie bickering over their height difference, and to Paul’s “grandfather”, who is a creepy, miserable man (but who is also “very clean”).
George: “That’s not your grandfather.”
Paul: “It is, you know.”
George: “But I’ve seen your grandfather. He lives in your house.”
Paul: “Oh, that’s my other grandfather, but he’s my grandfather, as well.”
John: “How do you reckon that one out?”
Paul: “Well, everyone’s entitled to two, aren’t they?”
With our entire principal cast established, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ is then set for all sorts of mischief, gags, silly exchanges, and band performances, as they make their way from the train to the hotel, from the hotel to a nightclub, to the television studio, to a much-needed outdoor jaunt, and then on a quest to find Ringo before performing their medley of songs for a delighted studio audience.
The humour is clearly the driving force of the picture. Although it is certainly dated and oft-times corny, it covers a variety of different genres throughout the course of its 87-minute runtime. Not content with just trying to be witty, the film also delves into minor slapstick, satire, absurdist humour, silliness, and more. And it all comes at the audience at an unrelenting pace.
And that’s what makes it all so thoroughly enjoyable: for every failed zinger, there’s something else that hits its mark; if one doesn’t like silliness, one will soon be treated to amusing abstractions or some other chuckler. In that way, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ remains smelling fresh: it is far too breezy for us pick up any whiff of dust and staleness. Not that there is much of it.
One extremely notable moment comes when John crosses paths with a woman, backstage, who seems to recognize him:
Millie: “Oh, wait a minute, don’t tell me who you are.”
John: “No, I’m not.”
Millie: “Oh, you are.”
John: “I’m not.”
Millie: “Oh, you are, I know you are.”
John: “I’m not, no.”
Millie: “You look just like him.”
John: “Do I? You’re the first one that’s said that ever.”
Millie (motions to the mirror): “Yes, you do. Look.”
John: “No, my eyes are lighter. The nose.”
Millie: “Oh, your nose is very.”
John: “Is it?”
Millie: “I would have said so.”
John: “Oh, you know him better, though.”
Millie: “I do not! He’s only a casual acquaintance.”
John: “That’s what you say.”
Millie: “What have you heard?”
John (leans in, lowers his voice): “It’s all over the place.”
Millie: “Is it? Is it really?”
John: “Mmm, but I wouldn’t have it. I stuck up for you.”
Millie: “I knew I could rely on you.”
Millie (puts on her glasses): “You don’t look like him at all.”
John walks away, pouting
John (to himself): “She looks more like him than I do.”
It’s such a nonsensical moment, completely delivered in allusions, but it also speaks to how trapped The Beatles were by their image and their fame. No doubt that, in real life, they’d had many such similar encounters by then.
Of course, there’s also the music. In lossless audio (‘A Hard Day’s Night’ has been released on blu-ray in Canada and Mexico – but, bizarrely enough, nowhere else), the songs sound vibrant, vigorous, renewed. I highly doubt that they benefited from the recent remasters, but they do sound fabulous here. Although the rest of the movie is front-heavy, the songs are in 5.1 and very much fill the room.
Unfortunately, The Beatles’ “television appearance” is marred by a major editing job – and not a subtle one, either. I had forgotten just how abrupt it could be, but The Beatles end up running through a handful of songs in snippet form, like a highlight reel, until we get to the set closer, “She Loves You”. It’s a great way to end the set and movie, but I really wish that the concert hadn’t been tailored so awkwardly; I felt cheated.
While some fans have been feeling cheated by this blu-ray edition’s 1080i transfer, I can’t say that I do. I must admit that the picture is a bit soft compared to a full 1080p HD transfer, but my last experience was with MPI Home Video’s original DVD release, over which this is a giant improvement. I will no doubt buy again when it’s released properly, but given how cheap this one goes for, it’s worth it.
In the end, aside from the fact that ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ is a landmark in pop culture that is frequently credited for having invented the music video, the picture is an amusing romp with the world’s most popular and influential pop-rock band. Some will find it too corny for their taste, but for anyone who enjoys the early The Beatles, this is a must-see – and likely also a must-have.
For many, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ remains the perfect document of that magical moment in time when we fell in love with them – a love that continues to this day.
Date of viewing: November 28, 2013