Hard Day’s Night, A (1964)

“Now look, I’ve had a marvelous idea: just for once, let’s all try to behave like ordinary, respectable citizens.”

Synopsis:
The Beatles (George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr) travel by train to a televised concert, accompanied by Paul’s mischievous grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell) and hoards of adoring young fans. When the band’s managers, Norm (Norman Rossington) and Shake (John Junkin), urge Ringo to get out of his shell and explore the town, he begins a series of adventures — but will he make it back in time for the live performance before the director’s (Victor Spinetti’s) nerves are shot?

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary accurately writes that this “treasure” by Richard Lester — giving an “impressionistic cinematic chronicle of a ‘typical’ 24 hours in the hectic lives of the Beatles” — is “a wonderful comedic-musical showcase for the talented foursome at its peak”. He notes that “the film’s infectious anarchical quality — as personified by the Beatles — was the result of Lester’s decision to combine his own style, as developed in live television and commercials, with the multifarious styles of filmmakers he admired” — including “Fellini, [Busby] Berkeley, Antonioni, Sennett, Chaplin, [and] Keaton”. He writes, “One scene will be abstract, the next absurd, the next realistic; [Lester] moves from fantasy to cinema verite” with “moments of slapstick, parody, satire, [and] outright silliness”. He credits “Alun Owen’s imaginative, semi-plotless script, full of non-sequiturs” as “the perfect vehicle for Lester’s mad method”.

This cult classic does indeed remain a “treasure”, for all the reasons outlined in Peary’s review (he goes into further detail in his Cult Movies essay). As Peary notes, the film nicely shows that despite the boys’ silliness and “vices”, they “are neither lazy nor irresponsible”; while they’re not presented as “heroic or wise figures”, “they’re to be admired… because of their professional attitude toward their music.” Importantly, they “like their fans, though the adoration befuddles them” — and “their loyalty to one another has less to do with friendship than with each being aware that only three other people in the world know what they’re going through as the only sane people in a Beatles-crazy world… Over and over again, when the pressures of living in a fishbowl get them down, they pick up their instruments and, quickly, they’re smiling again”, singing classics such as “I Should Have Known Better”, “If I Fell”, “And I Love Her”, “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You”, “Tell Me Why”, and “She Loves You”.

There are numerous elements to enjoy about A Hard Day’s Night, and countless memorable scenes; as Roger Ebert noted, this movie “has not aged and is not dated; it stands outside its time, its genre and even rock. It is one of the great life-affirming landmarks of the movies.” The young Beatles’ infectious enthusiasm for life and music — those smiles! — is the biggest draw by far, but I also love the sly supporting performances (particularly by Brambell and Spinetti); the “mod” sets; the consistently creative camera moves and angles; and the wonderful subplot provided to “poor Ringo”, who gets to be the star for once in his career. Also classic, of course, are the many shots of screaming fans, both those running tirelessly after the Beatles wherever they go, and those attending the concert; I especially appreciated noting this time around how many male fans are in the audience. (Phil Collins — who narrated an engaging 1995 documentary about the making of the film entitled You Can’t Do That! — points out he was an audience member himself.)

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Infectiously fun and natural performances by all four of the Beatles

  • Fine supporting roles

  • Countless memorable songs and moments


  • Creative set designs

  • The closing credits

Must See?
Yes, as an enduring cult classic. Nominated as one of the Best Movies of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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2 Responses to “Hard Day’s Night, A (1964)”

  1. A once-must, at least, for its place in cinema (and music) history. As per my post (about 5 years ago) in ‘Film Junkie’ (fb):

    ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ (Blu-ray): Hadn’t seen this in years. The Blu-ray results in a clean print but not a striking blu-ray. I remember seeing this at the drive-in when I was a kid; we were all in the throes of Beatlemania. It had a lot of kinetic energy and the songs were fun (though, near the end, some songs are repeated – which robs the film of its general spontaneity and then says ‘hard sell’). As cute as it is, ‘AHDN’ isn’t much of a movie, but it’s not meant to be – it was intended as an extended visual press release for The Fab Four. On the other hand, it’s still probably the best (and smartest) cinema history example of the boy-band genre.

  2. Along with Yellow Submarine (1968) which I love this is the only Beatles film that’s a must see.

    Frankly, although I admire this one I’m not really a fan.

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