It's been a hard day's night
and I've been workin' like a dog
- The Beatles
A Hard Day's Night is a 1964 theatrical film starring John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, collectively known as The Beatles. Shot near the height of Beatlemania, the film is considered to be the greatest film ever made starring a group of people better known for their musical exploits. It's also hilarious and quite surreal in places.
Original Release: 1964
Running Time: 87 minutes
Language: English / German
Color: Black and White
Sound: Stereo (the 2000 re-release is in Dolby Digital)
Rating: G (US); U (France and Great Britain)
A Hard Day's Night is available worldwide on VHS format and available in many countries (including the United States) in an exquisite two-disc DVD set; details on this set are mentioned below. The film is very easy to obtain and can often be found for rental.
Director: Richard Lester
Producer: Walter Shenson
Writer: Alun Owen
John Lennon portrays himself
Paul McCartney portrays himself
George Harrison portrays himself
Ringo Starr portrays himself
Wilfrid Brambell portrays Paul's grandfather
Norman Rossington portrays Norm
John Junkin portrays Shake
Victor Spinetti portrays the television director
Anna Quayle portrays Millie
... and a cast of thousands as Beatles fans and other miscellaneous roles
Music: The Beatles! (who else?)
Production Company: Proscenium Films
Distribution: Miramax / United Artists
The Film Itself
The surrealness and humor of this film is hard to capture, but I'll give it a whirl.
The film opens with the opening chord of the title song, A Hard Day's Night, as the fab four run straight into the camera, chased by a mob. The first thing you'll notice is the fact that the film is in black and white, but like Citizen Kane, you quickly realize that it just wouldn't work any other way.
John, George, and Ringo escape the mob by hiding in phone booths as the mob rushes by, then nonchalantly walk away; meanwhile, a fellow is eating a sandwich. After cutting through a store, the three Beatles are spotted again, so they escape by jumping over a wall and landing on a cart of some sort. The fellow continues to eat his sandwich, eventually biting into it and realizing it is covered in plastic; with a look of disgust, he throws away the sandwich.
The three Beatles keep running from their "adoring" fans past a bench where a man is reading a newspaper. Once the newspaper is no longer hiding the man's face, you can see that it is in fact Paul in a bogus goatee and mustache, and he exchanges glances with an elderly fellow next to him. The other three duck into a photo booth to catch a breather, but as soon as they leave, they are spotted by the horde of fans and are chased again. It should be noted that the only audio heard up to this point is the song A Hard Day's Night.
The three Beatles run toward a train, where Paul is waiting for them. As soon as they jump on, the doors close behind them and the train departs, leaving behind the adoring fans whose screams you can now hear for the first time as the song vanishes.
The boys enter a seating area and sit down along with the elderly gentleman that Paul saw earlier, who Paul reveals to be his grandfather. John and the grandfather seem to not get along too well (amid a series of one-liners by all of the Beatles) and the grandfather is referred to as being "very clean." Eventually, Shake shows up (who appears to be a friend of the Beatles) and they converse about the grandfather. Eventually, Norm shows up and instructs the Beatles to behave because they are appearing on television the next day, and then more commentary on the very clean grandfather. After a bit of banter, Shake, Norm, and the grandfather leave, and then another older gentleman with a top hat and a cane enters their seating area.
The gentleman looks oddly at all of the Beatles, then proceeds to close the window in the seating room. John and the man begin to argue about the window, but the old man refuses to hear about it. Ringo then turns on a radio, and the man shuts the radio off. This results in a deal of pun and joke-filled argument with the man. After a bit of this, the Beatles leave in search of coffee. In a touch of surreality, the Beatles are suddenly running alongside the train, taunting the man, but just as quickly, we return to them on the train.
They eventually reach the dining area, where Norm and Shake are arguing about whether Shake is treated unfairly because he is taller than Norm. It turns out that the clean grandfather instigated this (quite a mixer, he is!). After this is settled, a couple of attractive young ladies enter the car, and Paul decides to introduce himself and the others. Wearing a top hat and cane, he starts talking to the ladies, but his grandfather makes up some story about the Beatles being prisoners and that the ladies should run for it while they can (which they do).
After a bit, Shake and Norm realize that the grandfather has gone missing, so the six of them go searching for him. DUring the search, a beautiful young lady flirts with Ringo, but his lack of self esteem keeps him from doing anything about it. Paul and John wander about the train, goofing off with a room full of young ladies. Eventually, they find the grandfather sitting next to a lady claiming he is engaged; since the man is clearly "mad," they lock him up in a cage at the rear of the train.
Eventually, all of the Beatles go into the cage and start playing cards with a well-worn deck. This card playing is watched by several ladies, and is interspliced with the four of them playing instruments and singing I Should Have Known Better (in the cage).
Eventually, the Beatles arrive at a train station, where a mob is waiting for them. Norm sets up a simple plan for escape and they execute it, but Shake gets left behind on the train with the instruments. The group then goes to a hotel, where they proceed to make a lot of fun of Ringo, especially his nose. It then turns out that Ringo gets more fan mail than the rest of them combined.
Ringo also gets an invitation to a bash at a gambling hall, but the clean grandfather steals the invitation in a comical fashion. After a bit, the lads decide to go out on the town, but the grandfather decides to instead go to the bash. The Beatles go out dancing (to the tune of their songs I Wanna Be Your Man, All My Loving, and Don't Bother Me); Ringo's dancing is particularly amusing. Meanwhile, at the gambling hall, the grandfather makes a fool of himself while gambling in a wide variety of ways.
After Shake and Norm come and drag them back to the hotel room, they find a bellhop from who the grandfather had stolen a suit so he could go gambling, so the whole group of them go to retrieve the grandfather from the gambling hall.
This is followed by a scene where John is taking a bath, while George is also in the bathroom, showing Shake how to use a safety razor. This involves copious amounts of shaving cream being sprayed on the mirror and other chaos. Eventually, the Beatles leave to go to the studio, where a party is being held for them. Unfortunately, all of the Beatles are being denied food and drink at the party. The main part of this scene is when the Beatles answer questions from the reporters at the party.
Eventually, the boys find their way into a theatre adjoining the party, where a set for their performance is being set up. After a bit about Ringo's attachment to his drums, the group plays If I Fell.
Eventually, the television producer shows up and reveals that he is a paranoid fellow. Of course, this turns into a series of jokes about his behaviour, largely lead by the grandfather. The boys go off to the dressing room as a series of short bits follow involving 10 (no, 9) disappearing doves. After a bit, the boys find their way outside and the most famous scene of the movie happens.
The Beatles run down the fire escape and out into a field to the tune of Can't Buy Me Love. They then proceed to run and jump around an open field while viewed mostly from above. It's a very nice shot, as the boys run around on the field, just seemingly having fun. After a few minutes, their fun is cut short by a man who throws them off of this piece of "private property."
Meanwhile, Shake and Norm visit a tailor, and Shake tries to calm down Norm's nerves about having to deal with John. Meanwhile, the boys go back to their dressing room while John bumps into Millie; they discuss whether or not John (who she doesn't realize is actually John) looks like John Lennon or not.
Meanwhile, George goes to an office, where a young lady introduces him to Simon Marshall, who is a fashion designer trying to push some sort of arbitrary trend. Within a few minutes, the man goes from being enamored with George to throwing him out of his office when he calls all of the man's "fashions" grotty.
Meanwhile, the grandfather hides in the basement of the place to make fake Beatles signatures so he can sell them. On accident, though, he flips a switch and is lifted up onto the stage, where a group of opera singers are singing for the television show. Meanwhile, the boys clown around in the tailor shop. After a bit, the boys go down to the stage and play And I Love Her for the cameras in a near music video style.
After the run-through for the cameras, the boys are taken to the makeup room, which is an extended sequence of jokes and sight gags. After a bit, the band leaves, each of them with a beautiful makeup girl in arm, and begin to interfere with a dancing number by running amok and then playing I'm Happy Just To Dance With You.
After the number, Ringo and Gramps go to the comissary so that the old man can have a cup of tea. Granps convinces Ringo that he's wasting his life being bottled up in recording studios and that Ringo's actually the real leader and force behind the group. Thus, Ringo decides to head out and go "parading," walking out on the other three to enjoy life for a bit. Thus, the other three go out looking for him.
Meanwhile, Ringo is out and about taking pictures of London and enjoying the day, with an instrumental version of I'll Be Back playing as he wanders about. Eventually, he winds up talking about youth with a boy aged ten and meeting many of the locals of the neighborhood (and getting kicked out of a bar and followed by a policeman), and the conversations eventually make him realize all of the wonderful things he has in life.
Meanwhile, the television producer is throwing a fit because there's no Ringo. While the rest of the Beatles look for him, Gramps goes out selling his fake autographed Beatles photos to the crowd, and gets arrested for selling forgeries, and then Ringo is arrested as well for a bunch of random minor things that occur as he wanders about.
Ringo and Gramps wind up together at the police station. After a bit, Gramps makes a break for it and scampers back to the studio, hiring some kids to help him break back into the studio. After Gramps tell the boys where Ringo is, they rush to the police station to retrieve him (to the tune of Can't Buy Me Love). On the way back, the police start chasing them. Eventually, the whole lot of them wind up back at the police station, where the boys catch a breather and start running again; there's also an intermittent bit with a car thief.
Finally, the boys make it back to the studio just in time to go on the air live; the boys get dressed and go on the air (with a screaming audience). They perform Tell Me Why, If I Fell, and I Should Have Known Better to the adoring, screaming, mad crowd. They close out the movie by playing their classic She Loves You, while Grandpa makes his escape by handcuffing Shake to a chair, then sneaking into the basement and using the elevator to pop up in the middle of the musical number. Then, the group escapes in a helicopter to the tune of A Hard Day's Night before the closing credits roll.
Making A Hard Day's Night
The origin of A Hard Day's Night rest in the fertile promotional mind of Brian Epstein. In 1963, The Beatles were huge in Britain, and Epstein knew that their star would burn ever brighter if they appeared in a few motion pictures, because it would reveal more dimensions of the group to their audience, thus prolonging their success. Before the Beatles were ever known in the United States, Epstein and the boys signed a deal with United Artists for three feature films, leveraged largely by their huge success in Britain at the time.
The movie had no plot, no title, no script, no anything in late 1963, and the film was to be made in March and April 1964. Walter Shinson, the producer, met the Beatles in January 1964, trying to get some sort of grasp on what could be done with this project. He was charmed with them, and let them have a great deal of power over what kind of film would be made.
Shinson arranged for Richard Lester, the director of the Goons films, including the legendary The Running, Jumping, and Standing Still Film, much to the approval of the boys, and then hired Alun Owen, a known Scottish humor writer, to work on the script.
The resulting script, which Owen wrote very quickly after meeting the group a few times and getting a grasp for their personalities, largely consisted of a general plot outline and some stage directions. When filming began in mid-March 1964, the Beatles had six songs that they had written in the Bahamas, no title, and a bare script outline to work from.
In one month, they made movie gold. It turned out that the film didn't need much of a plot; it was carried by the charisma and wit of the four Beatles along with the strong spot writing of Owen. By the end of April, the film was finished.
Except... it didn't have a title, and thus not a title track. Walter Shinson and John Lennon, while discussing possible titles, really had no ideas for a good film title, but the two instead began joking about Ringo's penchant for butchering the English language. One example that John came up with was how after an all-night recording session, Ringo might refer to the work as "a hard day's night." Lights went off in Stinson's head, and the name stuck.
Even though they had a title, there was still no title track, and Stinson again asked John Lennon for help one Sunday afternoon in April 1964. John and Paul went out to dinner together, then came back to their dressing rooms on the set and jammed. The next morning, they played a largely completed A Hard Day's Night for Stinson. It was another home run.
In essence, the making of A Hard Day's Night was that of a series of fortunate accidents and strokes of bold luck that came together to make a classic film.
DVD Bonus Features
The DVD set has a ton of additional information on it concerning the creation of the film, including a bit of material on the first disc and a second disc full of additional material. Here's what's included:
Things They Said Today
This feature is found on the first disc and features a bunch of people that were involved with the film when it was actually being made. Most notable is the part with Sir George Martin, whose stoic style calmly steals the show, at least in my eyes. The documentary runs for about thirty six minutes and it makes it clear what exactly made the film work. It was mostly the creative input of Richard Lester and Alun Owen and the natural charisma of The Beatles, especially John Lennon, particularly in terms of the deft interactions between Owen (the head writer) and The Beatles, which is the key ingredient, according to the documentary, that makes the film work. The documentary is mostly just full of entertaining stories, particularly if you enjoy the film and/or The Beatles. Particularly nice is the fact that in the shots from the film and rehearsals shown in this documentary, there is a Pop-Up Video-esque feature in which arrows pop up indicating significant people, things, and events going on; it's executed quite nicely.
Their Production Will Be Second To None
This section is broken into two pieces, detailing the backgrounds of the two principal filmmakers: director Richard Lester and musical director Sir George Martin.
Look At My Direction... consists of clips from a lengthy interview with Richard Lester, the director of A Hard Day's Night. This interview is interesting mostly in terms of the realization of how some of the more subtle effects of the film come off, such as the claustrophobic feel of much of the first half (up until the running around in the field sequence), which was intended to mirror the fishbowl in which their lives were contained at the time, as well as commentary on the professionalism of George Harrison. The interview lasts about eleven minutes.
Then There Was Music... is an interview with Sir George Martin, the musical director of the film and the long-time producer of The Beatles' albums. Rather than focusing on the film, George mostly focuses on his experiences in general with the Beatles in their early years, and it's a good choice, as he spins some wonderful yearns. He does try a bit to focus on the soundtrack album, but he seems to mostly enjoy recalling the joy of those days. The interview lasts about nine and a half minutes.
With The Beatles
These are short interviews with the various cast members that played small roles in the film.
Shake It Up Baby... is an interview with John Junkin, who played Shake. Particularly interesting here is that Junkin was a scriptwriter who was hoping to work on the script, but wound up with a comedic role in the film because the Beatles liked working with him on camera. The interview is about four and a half minutes long.
Happy Just To Dance... is an interview with Lionel Blair, who played the television choreographer. In the role, he apparently just played himself, because he was already a television choreographer. It's a short bit, just three minutes long.
The Future Still Looks Good... is an interview with Kenneth Haigh, who had the tiny role of Simon Marshall, the person who tries to push the fashions onto George Harrison in the movie. Haigh is hilarious in this interview, mostly due to his bluntness towards his role and a mix of sincerity and sarcasm towards the phenomenon of the Beatles. This one is also about three minutes long.
That Boy... is an interview with David Jaxon, who played the young boy that Ringo befriended in the film. This starts off with a bunch of outtakes of the scene where Ringo gets hit by a tire, but it becomes a lively interview by Jaxon, who obviously has a lot of positive memories and enthusiasm about the experience. They get into a great level of detail about the single scene that David was in; his enthusiasm and strong memories contribute a lot here. The interview actually lasts about eleven minutes.
Give Us A Wink... is an interview with Anna Quayle, who played Millie, the young woman who couldn't recognize John. It's not especially interesting, as she mostly waxes nostalgic about John, but she does drop an interesting tidbit about the alterations to her scene. The interview runs for about three minutes.
I Act Like A Clown... is an interview with Jeremy Lloyd, who plays a non-speaking dancer role in the film. Mostly, he discusses the lifestyle of the times, as he ran in the same social circles as The Beatles at the time. The interview runs for about four and a half minutes.
Well, I'll Bet You... is an interview with Terry Hooper, who appears in the casino where Gramps goes after stealing Ringo's invitation. Mostly, he recollects the scene in great detail, where Gramps is cutting up. The interview is about four minutes long.
Working Like A Dog...
This section features interviews with the production crew of the film.
Here To Show Everybody The Light is an interview with Gilbert Taylor, the director of photography for the film. This may be the least interesting interview on the disc, as the individual talks a great deal about his background and obscure people from the film industry in a monotonous voice. It goes on for a bit over seven minutes, very little of which actually discusses A Hard Day's Night.
Tell Us What You See... is an interview with Paul Wilson, a camera operator. He has a bit of fun with the interview, talking about the difficulties of shooting people playing music, and a nice anecdote about how the fans of the Beatles made his teeth hurt. The interview is about four and a half minutes long.
Every Head She's Had The Pleasure To Know... is an interview with Betty Glasow, the film's hairdresser. She's very to the point, keeping her interview to about three minutes, but she drops a nice anecdote about the problems with Ringo's hair because it had a big gray streak.
We Shall Scrimp and Save... is an interview with Barrie Melrose, the second assistant director. He shares some minor anecdotes, but nothing of particular interest. The interview goes on for five and a half minutes.
Busy Working Overtime...
This section provides interviews with members of the post-production crew.
In The Thick Of It... is an interview with assistant editors Pam Tomling and Roy Benson. Most of the interview simply goes over the difficulty in going through the massive amount of film generated for A Hard Day's Night, since virtually every scene was shot several times from many different angles. Benson dominates the four minute long interview.
Every Sound There Is... is an interview with sound editors Gordon Daniels and Jim Roddan. The two fellows are both quite humorous about the sound editing, mostly in terms of the challenge of getting rid of all of the screaming produced by the horde of fans that followed the making of the film. The interview is about three minutes long.
Listen To The Music Playing In Your Head...
This is an excellent portion for all you audiophiles out there. Basically, Sir George Martin reviews the soundtrack to the film in detail, basically following the tracks in the order they appear in the movie. I am honestly quite a fan of Sir George, so I found this part utterly fascinating. The best part is when he discusses the deliberate construction of Can't Buy Me Love, one of the group's greatest songs. The interview goes on for twelve wonderful minutes.
Such A Clean Old Man!
Obviously, this is an interview with several people reminiscing about Wilfrid Brambell, who played the very clean grandfather of Paul in the film. There are a lot of clips of Brambell's acting career in this section, which really carries it, as many of the interview pieces fall flat. The segment goes on for five minutes.
I've Lost My Little Girl...
This segment details Isla Blair, an actress who had several scenes with Paul that were cut from the film. Blair appears in the segment and her interview portions carry the piece, as she has a sense of humor and is quite charismatic. The piece is about four and a half minutes long.
Taking Testimonial Pictures...
This is a segment interviewing Robert Freeman, the person who designed the film poster, the cover of the album, and the closing credits for the film. Mostly the interview is about his creative process, especially interesting in terms of his ideas for using the multiple photographs of each Beatle to create the overall visual imagery of the poster and the album. The interview runs for about eleven minutes.
Dressed To The Hilt...
This section is an interview with Gordon Millings, the group's tailor. Basically, he shows the patterns and other materials used in designing the suits that the boys wore in the film. Millings' father actually played the tailor in the film. Largely, he discusses the difficulties of keeping suits on hand for the boys, as they were constantly getting damaged or getting stolen. Not particularly interesting, but not bad, either, the interview goes on for about seven minutes.
Dealing With "The Men From The Press"...
This is an interview with the Beatles' publicist at the time, Tony Barrow. Most of this interview revolves around the idea that the Beatles often made his job easier by repeatedly recording great music, and the fact that the film was also very good made it easy for him to "sell" the film to the media. Basically, as far as I can tell, he basically mailed it in in terms of his job, letting the Beatles do things themselves, as they had charisma and press talent on their own. Still, a fun interview, if a bit long winded and a tad repetitive in places. The interview runs for about seventeen minutes.
They And I Have Memories...
This is a very interesting interview of Klaus Voorman, a long-time friend of the Beatles (and artist of the cover of Revolver). This is an utterly fascinating interview, as the man was actually a true friend of the group, so he actually was able to talk with clarity about what actually went on behind the scenes. Plus, he speaks very eloquently and with more than a touch of charisma, all adding up to a very interesting and engrossing interview. It lastas for about eight minutes.
Hitting The Big Time In The USA
This is an interview with Sid Bernstein, who promoted a lot of the Beatles' concerts in the United States. The striking part about this interview (besides Sid Bernstein's enormous ego) is how clear he made the true enormity of the tumult of the time for the band, as their popularity was reaching insane heights. He also speaks very highly of Brian Epstein. It's about four minutes long, and it's interesting in a lot of ways.
The Soundtrack Album
The soundtrack album is well covered in this node, so I won't bother with redundancy. It spawned two number one singles (Can't Buy Me Love and the title track) and provided a perfectly appropriate audio backdrop for the film.
The Significance of A Hard Day's Night
Basically, it's the Citizen Kane of pop star movies. There's no other way, really, to describe it. It has a solid plot, great character, and even more, it is loaded with solid humor that comes at you in a great number of different ways. Even better, it has aged extremely well and still has a lot of relevant humor in it. I would call it an essential film for anyone to watch, but definitely a must-see for anyone remotely interested in comedy or popular music; the massive amount of DVD extras are just a bonus.