The Beatles. Never heard of them? The band was a big deal a couple of years ago. And this feature film from 1964 is still mighty fine fun.
A Hard Day’s Night
Right, The Beatles remain more than a band. The four members pretty much defined the lives of tens of millions around the globe.
So, they’ve sort of transcended being a normal band and become an institution of sorts.
Back in the early Sixties, the band had skyrocketed to superstardom and the Fab Four was blasting at hit single after hit single.
This success warranted a film. And so we got A Hard Day’s Night, which our media studies teacher insisted we watch as a project back in 2001.
Richard Lester (now 89) directed the film, choosing a fast-paced approach punctuated by the band’s songs of the day.
It’s a comedy film, with caper elements. The four members were famous for their witty banter and this is on full show in A Hard Day’s Night.
They’re all very lively and entertaining. Almost slapstick.
The cast includes, obviously, the four members—John, Paul, George, and Ringo (The Beatles’ beards are all missing at this point).
Plus, that bloke from Steptoe and Son—the grumpy father—Wilfrid Brambell. He plays Paul McCartney’s mildly cantankerous grandfather.
Big chunks of the film deal with the band larking about.
It promotes a carefree attitude, with the group dodging hordes of screaming female fans and revelling in youth.
In reality, Lennon was struggling with newfound superstardom. To deal with it, he began overeating and drinking too much.
He gained weight as a result and wrote Help! as a plea for assistance.
That’s from a Blackpool performance in 1965. We include it to flag up a classic song, but also to show off Lennon’s tomfoolery and wit.
A Hard Day’s Night wasn’t much of a tortuous acting gig for the band.
Everything was pretty natural, if slightly exaggerated on their real personalities. It plays off their cheeky chappy personalities and irreverence.
Lennon’s personal issues aside, he didn’t show his depression during the film—it’s as if he has nary a care in the world.
It’s clearly a film for the fans. Primarily the female ones. And this is managed in endearing fashion and good humour.
There are regular breaks in the acting to make way for staged live performances of more hit singles.
This is interspersed with the band members managing superstardom, such as dealing with the press.
And A Hard Day’s Night wraps up with a performance of several songs.
We suppose for many Beatles fans at the time, getting to see them perform wasn’t really an option.
Plus, other than the music press, it was kind of difficult to follow the antics of what, for many millions, will have been their favourite band.
So this film served its purpose bloody well and provides a few laughs on the way.
And it’s now an important historical record, showing a talented bunch enjoying themselves in front of the camera.
But also just a damn fun film, with plenty of fine music along the way. What more could you want?
A Hard Day’s Night’s Production
With its £189,000 budget, the film went on to make a whopping £11 million. Not ‘alf bad, me old mucker!
In modern moolah, that’s the equivalent of almost £70 million.
Alun Owen (1925-1994) handled the screenplay, in part as the band knew his work and liked him. But also because Owen had an aptitude for Liverpudlian dialogue.
He hung around with the band prior to writing to get a feel for their lifestyle and behaviour. Depressingly, McCartney described the rock and roll life as:
“A train and a room and a car and a room and a room and a room.”
It wasn’t all bad news for George Harrison, as he met his future wife on set. Although his painful-looking fall at the start of the film (collecting Ringo Starr in the process) was very genuine.
And what of those accents? For the US market, studio executives asked for a mid-Atlantic dub to drown out the Liverpudlian voices.
Paul McCartney was not at all impressed and basically told them to piss off.
After all, director Richard Lestor was open about his intentions for the film:
“[The aim] was to present what was apparently becoming a social phenomenon in this country. Anarchy is too strong a word, but the quality of confidence that the boys exuded! Confidence they could dress as they liked, speak as they liked, talk to the Queen as they liked, talk to the people on the train who ‘fought the war for them’ as they liked … Everything was still based on privilege—privilege by schooling, privilege by birth, privilege by accent, privilege by speech. The Beatles were the first people to attack this. They said if you want something, do it. You can do it. Forget all this talk about talent or ability or money or speech. Just do it.”
And for all of that, the band’s name isn’t mentioned once throughout the film. Clever, eh?