The idea of creating a film featuring The Beatles came about as an extension of their success on television, both in the UK and in America. The film was a way of bringing The Beatles' music to a much wider audience, and for the price of admission, young people from all over the world could "attend" a Beatles' concert of sorts with like-minded fans. For those fans who were unable to see The Beatles in person, the film would at least move the experience of Beatlemania outside the living room and into a larger venue.
At the outset, United Artists, which owned the rights to the movie, saw more profit in the soundtrack than it did in the actual film itself. As a result, the film studio execs instructed producer Walter Shenson to make the movie as quickly and cheaply as possible. At the time, Beatlemania was so wide-spread and so wildly enthusiastic that Shenson decided to forgo a plot line of much consequence and decided to film a typical "day in the life" of The Beatles.
Richard Lester, an American who had done a fair bit of cinematography in England, was hired as the film's director. Lester was best known for his work on the BBC's The Goon Show. Considered a master of the two-minute gag format, Lester was a perfect fit for A Hard Day's Night, since his ability to encapsulate a quick bit of slapstick fit perfectly into the time frame of a Beatles' song.
In A Hard Days Night, slapstick is the order of the day. The black and white film is a madcap adventure of four young musicians who challenge the establishment and the established way of thinking in the early 1960s. The post-war adult world is portrayed as something of a dry fig of tradition and boredom, and the lads from Liverpool set about breaking away from that convention and turning the world of London's stodgy propriety upside-down. Nothing is sacred in a new quasi-revolutionary age of youth and abandonment. Serious is deleterious. These boys just wanna have fu-u-un.
And so, the four Beatles, accompanied by Paul's equally irreverent grandfather (played by Wilfrid Brambell), go out of their way to punch some of the stuffiness out of the British establishment. The "proper" adult world becomes a target for an episodic series of antics and practical jokes.
Alun Owen wrote the screenplay based on the band's early years, a time in which the four young Liverpudlians were bubbling over with mischief and mayhem. The plot is a study of a day in the life of the Fab Four beginning with them running from their adoring fans to catch a train. Every plot development has the band encountering a series of mishaps as they attempt to find their way to a television show in order to perform a live concert. These mishaps become a series of zany, and otherwise wacky bits of funniness.
William Brambell with Ringo
The first obstacle that sets the film in motion has Paul McCartney babysitting his grandfather, a first class "mixer" (troublemaker) always getting into mischief. Brambell plays the role perfectly. Nuisance is shown to be not simply a characteristic of unbridled youthfulness. Paul's grandfather seems intent on upsetting the apple cart of life wherever he goes, first when he causes a minor disturbance in a hotel casino, and then when he goes out of his way to convince Ringo Starr that the lad is wasting his life away by not going out and experiencing life to the fullest.
This call to freedom does not fall on deaf ears, and the story's second great dilemma unfolds. Ringo, suddenly discovering a sense of self-liberation, goes off on his own to find happiness, only to land in jail for loitering, while the other members of the band frantically try to find him. The concert is, after all, the focus of the entire journey, and without their drummer, ironic as that may be to those who remember Pete Best, the band will not be able to perform.
The madcap adventures of the Liverpool lads is counterpointed by a cast of characters who seem reasonable enough at face value, but who are almost as quirky as the stars of this show.
Norman Rossington and John Junkin as The Beatles' managers are stalwart English character actors who fill out the cast and support the general lunacy of the film with a more traditional presence, but still sustain an on-going battle about one being taller than the other.
Anna Quayle has a great bit with John Lennon about his being someone whom John swears he's not. By the end of their brief dialogue, Ms Quayle's brief encounter with someone famous turns into a moment of self-denial and self-reproach.
The story ends with the television concert finally taking place, with the band yet again running from their adoring fans, this time being scooped away in a helicopter as the final credits roll.
Filming of A Hard Day's Night began in March, 1964, just nine days after the group's successful introduction to America on The Ed Sullivan Show. The wave of fan interest for the band seemed to have no end to it. It was clear to all interested parties in the film world establishment that The Beatles were on their way to international stardom, possibly greater than had ever been seen before.
And, on this occasion, the establishment got it right.
The 2014 rerelease of A Hard Day's Night commemorates the 50th anniversary of the film's theatre release in 1964. The film has undergone a number of reincarnations over the years, released initially on VHS
and Betamax in 1984 and more recently in a Collector's Edition on Blu-ray
Whether or not the "new" version has much to add is a matter of personal taste. The new release boasts a 4K digital film restoration, approved by director Richard Lester, with three audio options — a monaural soundtrack, as well as stereo and 5.1 surround mixes supervised by sound producer Giles Martin — presented in uncompressed monaural, uncompressed stereo, and DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray. In more simple language, the new edition should have the clearest video and sound that is available through current digital technology.
Also included in the new package:
- Audio commentary featuring various members of the film's cast and crew (in the dual-format set only)
- In Their Own Voices, a new piece combining interviews with the Beatles from 1964 with behind-the-scenes footage and photos
- You Can't Do That: The Making of "A Hard Day's Night", a 1994 documentary program by producer Walter Shenson
- Things They Said Today, a 2002 documentary about the film featuring Lester, music producer George Martin, writer Alun Owen, cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, and others (in the dual-format set only)
- New piece about Lester's early work, featuring a new audio interview with the director (in the dual-format set only)
- The Running Jumping and Standing Still Film(1959), Lester's Oscar-nominated short featuring Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan (in the dual-format set only)
- Anatomy of a Style, a new piece on Lester's approach to editing (in the dual-format set only)
- New interview with Mark Lewisohn, author of The Beatles: All These Years — Volume One, Tune In (in the dual-format set only)
- An essay by critic Howard Hampton
Plus a new cover by Rodrigo Corral
Some Beatles' collectors will find all the extras a worthwhile addition to their Beatles' library. For most people, the actual film, A Hard Day's Night itself, is what matters. Still, in the world of oversized, "smart" televisions lit up by LEDs in startling High Definition, this new Blu-ray edition may have a place.
Unfortunately, no one can really recapture the thrill of seeing A Hard Day's Night in 1964, in a darkened movie theatre amidst the tittering of other Beatles' fans. Instead, we return to the living room, maybe with family or a few friends, maybe with just the company of a bag of microwaved popcorn. Whatever our situation, we get a glimpse of history, happily never quite completely forgotten.
For more information and current pricing, please visit Amazon.
Posted on March 22, 2014.