Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

A Hard Day's Night (1964) * * *

The film has no real plot, but follows the adventures of The Beatles on a fictional day in the life of the band, as John, Paul, George and Ringo take a trip from Liverpool by train to London to appear on a TV show. After escaping a horde of hysterical fans, they board the train, try to relax, then various interruptions test their patience, causing George to go to the goods van for some peace and quiet. They are burdened by Paul's trouble-making grandfather John McCartney (Wilfred Brambell), reporters, police, studio moguls, and screaming teenage girls. The movie pits their youthful exuberance against authority figures who constantly look down on them as the Beatles remain laid back. They respond with dry British one-liners and shift easily into melodic musical interludes, such as "All My Lovin'", and "I Wanna Be Your Man." When they finally get away from all the pressures, they find an empty field and romp to the tune of "Can’t Buy Me Love" in a sequence that has influenced thousands of music videos. Nearly every modern music video, perhaps the very concept of the music video, owes some credit to this movie.

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?
Grandfather: Hullo.
John: He can talk then, can he?
Paul: 'Course he can talk. He's a human being, isn't he?
Ringo: Well if he's your grandfather, who knows! Ha ha ha!

(the Beatles are listening to the radio)
Man on Train: And we'll have that thing off as well, thank you.
Ringo: But...
Man on Train: An elementary knowledge of the Railway Acts would tell you that I'm perfectly within my rights.
Paul: Yeah, but we want to hear it, and there's more of us than you. We're a community, like, a majority vote. Up the workers and all that stuff!
Man on Train: Then I suggest you take that damned thing to the corridor or some other part of the train where you obviously belong.
John: Give us a kiss.
Man on train: Don't take that tone with me, young man. I fought the war for your sort.
Ringo: I bet you're sorry you won.
Man On Train: I shall call the guard!
Paul: Ah, but what? They don't take kindly to insults, you know.

On arrival in London, they are driven to a hotel where they feel trapped. After a night out during which McCartney's grandfather causes minor trouble at a casino, the group is taken to the theater where their performance is to be filmed. The preparations are lengthy so Starr decides to spend some time alone reading a book. McCartney's grandfather, a "villain, a real mixer", convinces him that he should be outside experiencing life instead of reading books, so Starr goes off by himself. He tries to have a quiet drink in a pub, walks alongside a canal, rides a bicycle along a railway station platform, and befriends young boy Charlie (David Janson). Meanwhile, the rest of the band frantically and unsuccessfully attempt to find Starr. Finally, he returns and the concert goes ahead as planned.

Norm: Now look, I've had a marvelous idea. Just for once, let's all try to behave like ordinary, respectable citizens. Let's not cause any trouble, pull any strokes, or do anything I'm gonna be sorry for. Especially tomorrow at that television theater, because... (looks at John, who is holding up a bottle to his nose) Are you listening to me, Lennon?
John: You're a swine. Isn't he, George?
George: Yeah, a swine.
Norm: Thanks.
Norm: Now you've got about an hour, but don't leave the theater. Where are you going, John?
John: (with a dancing girl) She's gonna show me her stamp collection.
Paul: (also with a girl) So's mine.
Norm: John, I'm talking to you. This final run-through is important, understand? Important!

The Fab Four comment cheekily on their own fame. In one of the funniest scenes of the film, a fan runs into John backstage. "I know who you are!" she proclaims excitedly. "I'm not. No," he answers, saying his face isn't quite right. The fan eventually agrees, saying, "You look nothing like him." When Starr is asked if he's a Mod or a Rocker, he replies "I'm a mocker." "Has success changed your life?" another asks George. "Yes," he answers truthfully, with nothing more to add. When a reporter asks George, “What do you call your haircut?”, he replies, “Arthur." The frequent reference to McCartney's grandfather as a "clean old man" contrasts with the British TV sitcom "Steptoe and Son" description of Wilfrid Brambell's character, Albert Steptoe, as a "dirty old man".

Reporter: How did you find America?
John: Turned left at Greenland.
Reporter: Has success changed your life?
George: Yes.
Reporter: Are you a mod or a rocker?
Ringo: Um, no. I'm a mocker.
Reporter: Do you think these haircuts have come to stay?
Ringo: Well, this one has. You know, it's stuck on good and proper now.
Reporter: What would you call that hairstyle you're wearing?
George: Arthur.
Reporter: What do you call that collar?
Ringo: A collar.
Reporter: Do you often see your father?
Paul: No, actually, we're just good friends.

A HARD DAY'S NIGHT captures the beginning of Beatlemania in a way that is subtle and intelligent. A smooth amalgamation of Richard Lester's intricate direction, Alun Owen's hysterical screenplay, and the natural charms of John, Paul, George, and Ringo, A HARD DAY'S NIGHT is a film of its time and perfectly timeless. Lester also makes it into a commentary on the interactions of spectacle and perspective in an age when television and movie cameras were becoming the primary windows to the world.

Using abrupt changes in camera angles, shots of the Beatles on television monitors and in mirrors, and as much footage of the fans screaming as of the band performing, Lester not only captures the early Beatles in a profoundly pleasurable way, but also turns the very process of viewing around on itself. The girls appear repeatedly with tears streaming and vocal chords straining. The group's longevity is entirely based on creative musicians, songwriters, and performers. Unfortunately, after only a very short time in the limelight, the band decided in 1966 to never again play a live performance. So, aside from being an innovative and funny film, A HARD DAY'S NIGHT contains some of the best concert footage of the young Beatles in action.

A HARD DAY'S NIGHT is a comedy, not a documentary, but it was made in the style of a mock documentary. The characters the Beatles play are themselves, and the success that they both enjoy and flee from is quite real. Their cheeky, clever personalities shine through the stage lighting and camera flashes. The comedy is equally cutting edge, with Owen's magnificently droll and cunning script, somewhere between Shakespeare and Monty Python. Paul's grandfather, whom the boys always leave behind because he's "too old," is the catalyst for many jokes. After many decades, the movie has not dated and has a sense of immediacy and exhilaration that makes it hard to not get caught up in the excitement of the moment.

The cast also includes: Norman Rossington (Norm), John Junkin (Shake), Victor Spinetti (Richard - TV Director), Anna Quayle (Millie), Deryck Guyler (Police Inspector), Richard Vernon (Man on Train), Edward Malin (Hotel Waiter), Robin Ray (TV Floor Manager), Lionel Blair (TV Choreographer), Alison Seebohm (Dolly - Simon's Secretary), Isla Blair (Shakespearean Actress), Bridget Armstrong (Lead Makeup Woman), Roger Avon, John Bluthal (Car Thief), Pattie Boyd (Jean - Schoolgirl on Train), Andrea Brett, Terry Brooks (Urchin), Anne Clune, Phil Collins (seated fan with necktie), Brian Epstein, Rosemarie Frankland (Brunette Showgirl), Kenneth Haigh (Simon Marshall), Julian Holloway (Adrian, Simon's Assistant), Terry Hooper (Casino Croupier), Ric Hutton, Clare Kelly (Barmaid), Lavinia Lang, David Langton (Actor), Linda Lewis (Audience Member), Jeremy Lloyd (Tall Dancer at the Disco), Jane Lumb, Dougie Millings (Tailor), Peter Newton, Derek Nimmo (Leslie Jackson - Magician), Margaret Nolan (Grandfather's Girl at Casino), Gordon Rollings (Man with Sandwich in Pub), Edina Ronay (girl at Disco), Sally Sheridan, Geraldine Sherman (Girl Outside Secondhand Shop), Marianne Stone (Society Reporter), Michael Trubshawe Casino Manager), Hedger Wallace, Carol White, Susan Whitman (Susan), and Tina Williams (Tina). Alun Owen wrote the screenplay and Richard Lester directed.

During the worldwide phenomenon of Beatlemania in 1964, United Artists wanted to market a movie with The Beatles before their vogue was over. Working with a tight $500,000 budget, director Richard Lester turned out A HARD DAY'S NIGHT in a mere 6 1/2 weeks. The movie was in the theaters three months after shooting commenced. Using a variety of techniques cribbed from Hollywood slapstick comedies, the French "new wave" movement, and his own experiences as a TV-commercial director, Lester fashioned an exhilarating study of a "typical" 36 hours in the lives of the Fab Four. Onto a plot about getting to an important TV appearance on time are hung a series of instant-reaction gags, character vignettes, and musical setpieces. Much of the humor arises from Paul McCartney's efforts to keep his grandfather John, a "clean old man," from getting into mischief. Also good for several laughs is Ringo Starr, whose mistimed declaration of independence lands him in jail. We are also treated to a war of nerves between the unflappable John Lennon and uptight TV director Richard (Victor Spinelli), who worries that if the Beatles do not show up at broadcast time, he'll be demoted to "News In Welsh." George Harrison shines in a sequence in which he is mistaken for an auditionee by producer Simon Marshall (Kenneth Haigh) of a superficially trendy, teen-oriented TV weekly.

Simon Marshall: We'd like you to give us your opinion on some clothes for teenagers.
George: Oh, by all means. I'd be quite prepared for that eventuality.
Simon Marshall: Well, not your real opinion, obviously. It'll be written out for you. Can you read?
George: Of course.
Simon Marshall: I mean lines, ducky, can you handle lines?
George: Well, I'll have a bash.
Simon Marshall: Good. Get him whatever it is they drink, uh, coke-a-rama? (gives George some shirts) Now you'll like these. You'll really "dig" them. They're "fab," and all the other pimply hyperboles...
George: I wouldn't be seen dead in them. They're dead grotty.
Simon Marshall: Grotty?
George: Yeah, grotesque.
Simon Marshall: Make a note of that word and give it to Susan. It's quite touching, really. Here's this kid, giving me his utterly valueless opinion, when I know for a fact that within a month, he'll be suffering from a violent inferiority complex and loss of status because he isn't wearing one of these nasty things. Of course they're grotty, you wretched nit, that's why they were designed! But that's what you'll want.
George: No, I won't.
Simon Marshall: You can be replaced, chickie baby.
George: I don't care.

The Songs Performed:

* "A Hard Day's Night"
* "I Should Have Known Better"
* "I Wanna Be Your Man"
* "Don't Bother Me" (George Harrison)
* "All My Loving"
* "If I Fell"
* "Can't Buy Me Love"
* "And I Love Her"
* "I'm Happy Just to Dance with You"
* "Tell Me Why"
* "She Loves You"

The screenplay was written by Alun Owen, who was chosen because the Beatles were familiar with his 1959 TV play "No Trams to Lime Street", and he had shown an aptitude for Liverpudlian dialogue. McCartney commented, "Alun hung around with us and was careful to try and put words in our mouths that he might've heard us speak, so I thought he did a very good script." Owen spent several days with the group, who told him their lives were like "a room and a car and a room and a car and a room and car." The character of Paul's grandfather refers to this in the dialogue. Owen wrote the script from the viewpoint that the Beatles had become prisoners of their own fame, and their schedule of performances and studio work had become punishing.

The movie's strange title originated from something said by Ringo Starr, who described it this way in an interview with disc jockey Dave Hull in 1964: "We went to do a job, and we'd worked all day and we happened to work all night. I came up still thinking it was day I suppose, and I said, 'It's been a hard day...' and I looked around and saw it was dark so I said, '...night!' So we came to 'A Hard Day's Night.'" According to Lennon in a 1980 interview with Playboy magazine: "I was going home in the car and Dick Lester suggested the title, 'Hard Day's Night' from something Ringo had said. I had used it in "In His Own Write", but it was an off-the-cuff remark by Ringo. You know, one of those malapropisms. A Ringo-ism, where he said it not to be funny... just said it. So Dick Lester said, 'We are going to use that title.'" In a 1994 interview for "The Beatles Anthology", however, McCartney disagreed with Lennon's recollections, recalling that it was the Beatles, and not Lester, who had come up with the idea of using Starr's verbal misstep: "The title was Ringo's. We'd almost finished making the film, and this fun bit arrived that we'd not known about before, which was naming the film. So we were sitting around at Twickenham studios having a little brain-storming session... and we said, 'Well, there was something Ringo said the other day.' Ringo would do these little malapropisms, he would say things slightly wrong, like people do, but his were always wonderful, very lyrical... they were sort of magic even though he was just getting it wrong. And he said after a concert, 'Phew, it's been a hard day's night.'" Yet another version of events appeared in 1996. Producer Walter Shenson said that Lennon had described to him some of Starr's funnier gaffes, including "a hard day's night", whereupon Shenson immediately decided that that was going to be the title of the film.

A HARD DAY'S NIGHT was originally released by United Artists and in 1979 rights to the film were transferred to its producer, Walter Shenson, who in 1982 granted rights to Universal Pictures for a cinematic reissue. Universal added a prologue consisting of a montage of photographic stills from the film shoot edited to a soundtrack of the song "I'll Cry Instead", a recording once considered for the film and included on the US soundtrack album but eventually not used. In 1984, MPI Home Video, under license from Shenson, first released A HARD DAY'S NIGHT on home video in the VHS, Betamax and Laserdisc formats, which all included the prologue.

In 2000, Miramax Films reissued the film in theaters in the United States and then as a collector's edition DVD two years later, as well as its final issue in the VHS format. The film had been transferred from the restored 35 mm negative and presented in 1.66:1 Widescreen. The prologue that Universal added in 1982 is absent on Miramax releases. In addition to the original film, the DVD edition contained a bonus disc with over 7 hours of additional material including interviews with cast and crew members and Beatles associates. The DVD was produced by Beatles historian and producer Martin Lewis, a longtime friend of Shenson. More than just a fully enhanced digital version of A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, it features extensive interviews with practically anyone still living who worked on the movie, from child actor David Janson to United Artists studio executive David Picker. More than two hours of material provide a fascinating perspective on the making of the movie.

The new Miramax DVD has a digitally remastered disc which provides a flawless picture--it is crisp and has a full range of black and white tones. The film’s original mono soundtrack has been digitally restored for this disc and is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The dialogue, which comes through on the center channel of a surround sound system, is crisp and clear. The songs have been remixed for surround and the result isn’t an improvement. Many of the songs have too much echo from the rear speakers. In the band’s concert at the end of the film, it sounds as if the disc is trying to duplicate the acoustics of a concert hall, but the effect is distracting.

A documentary about the making of A HARD DAY'S NIGHT, "Things They Said Today", is one of the best extras in this set. It has interviews with director Richard Lester, George Martin, and many others connected with the movie. It gives some interesting background about the development of the film as well as many inside stories. The DVD-ROM features on Disc One include a "screenplay viewer", which plays the movie on the left side of the screen while showing the screenplay on the right side. The DVD-ROM has a website archive which can be viewed without going online. The archive also has the complete screenplay along with hundreds of behind-the-scene photos, news articles, posters and other promotional materials. Another feature of the DVD-ROM is a link to a DVD destination website, which has more photos and publicity materials. It includes audio roundtable discussions by the cast and crew, who share memories of working on the film. There are also links to a few of the thousands of Beatles websites.

Disc Two has more interviews with people who worked on the film, from Lester and Martin to the hair stylist, even the actress whose scene ended up on the cutting room floor. One segment, "Memories of Wilfrid Brambell", explains why everyone in the movie keeps remarking on his character’s cleanliness, a joke lost on American audiences. Unfortunately, most of these segments don’t really shed any new light on the movie or the band. Although not all outtakes are worth viewing, some of them might have merited inclusion on the disc. For instance, the documentary on Disc One mentions a song that was filmed for the final concert and cut from the movie. Also missing are theatrical trailers, which have become a standard feature on many DVDs. The film itself makes this DVD worth watching. Although it was a mistake to remix the sound, it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of A HARD DAY'S NIGHT. The DVD has an impressive number of extra features, but what was left out will leave hardcore fans wanting more.

A HARD DAY'S NIGHT was successful both financially and critically. It was rated by Time magazine as one of the all-time great 100 films. Film critic Leslie Halliwell described it as a "comic fantasia with music; an enormous commercial success with the director trying every cinematic gag in the book" and awarded it a full four stars (he rarely gave films even one star). The movie is credited with having influenced 1960s spy films, THE MONKEES' television show and pop music videos.

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