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Helping spread the "Beatlemania" that raged worldwide in the mid-1960s was A Hard Day's Night (1964), a semidocumentary comedy about 36 hectic hours in the life of the Beatles -- George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. This was the British pop group's first film; many still consider it the best.
Director Richard Lester later acknowledged that A Hard Day's Night was put together quickly because it was thought The Beatles might be a passing vogue with little staying power. The movie was made in six and a half weeks, on a budget of only $500,000, and aimed primarily at English audiences. Premiering in theaters only three months after shooting began, the film became an international sensation and an instant classic.
Lester shot the movie on the run, with a quirky visual style that draws on his experience as a director of television commercials and utilizes some of the techniques of France's "new wave" filmmakers. The London street scenes had to be filmed furtively, with only a shot or two possible before interruptions by screaming fans and the police who tried to control them; the fans seen chasing The Beatles into the train at the beginning of the film are real ones. Some settings, notably the exterior of London's La Scala Theatre for the press interview sequence, were quickly improvised to avoid the crush.
Screenwriter Alun Owen built his plot around the boys' efforts to get to a theater on time to perform on a television show. McCartney later said that "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." According to Owen, only Lennon ad-libbed and the other Beatles stuck to the written script. Although the movie's working title had been simply "The Beatles," those words are never mentioned in the final screenplay.
Much of the film's throwaway humor revolves around McCartney's efforts to keep his grandfather, played by Wilfrid Brambell, out of mischief. The Beatles first worked with Brambell when they were on the same bill at the Royal Command Variety Performance in November 1963. The references to him as a "clean old man" sprang from Brambell's performance in "Steptoe and Son" (a popular British comedy series), in which a catch-phrase was "You dirty old man."
Also prominent in the supporting cast are Norman Rossington and John Junkin as The Beatles' managers, Norm and Shake, inspired by real-life road managers Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans, respectively. Victor Spinetti plays the harried television director, with other roles filled by cartoonist Bob Godfrey and comedienne Anna Quayle. Harrison's future wife Pattie Boyd appears in several early scenes on the train. Director Lester and Beatles mentor Brian Epstein have cameos.
The songs include "I Should Have Known Better," "I Wanna Be Your Man," "Don't Bother Me," "All My Loving," "If I Fell," "Can't Buy Me Love," "And I Love Her," "I'm Happy Just to Dance With You," "This Boy (Ringo's Theme)," "Tell Me Why," "She Loves You" and the title song.
"A Hard Day's Night" was written by Lennon, with McCartney's help, the same night that phrase was chosen as the movie's title. (Producer Walter Shenson had suggested the title after hearing Starr use the malapropism in describing an all-night recording session.) Lennon was away promoting a book when the scene of the boys cavorting in a field to "Can't Buy Me Love" was shot. A double filled in, and close-ups of Lennon were added later.
Producers: Walter Shenson, David V. Picker (Executive Producer), Denis O'Dell (Associate Producer)
Director: Richard Lester
Screenplay: Alun Owen
Cinematography: Gilbert Taylor
Editing: John Jympson
Art Direction: Ray Simm
Costume Design: Julie Harris, Dougie Millings (uncredited)
Original Music: George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Martin (uncredited)
Cast: John Lennon (John), Paul McCartney (Paul), George Harrison (George), Ringo Starr (Ringo), Wilfrid Brambell (Grandfather), Norman Rossington (Norm), John Junkin (Shake), Victor Spinetti (TV director), Anna Quayle (Millie).
by Roger Fristoe