Cast & Crew
Pursued by their zealous teenaged fans, the Beatles--Paul, John, George, and Ringo--board a London-bound train to do a television program. They are accompanied by their manager, Norm, his assistant, Shake, and Paul's cantankerous and meddlesome grandfather, whose only attribute seems to be that he is "a clean old man." On the first evening in London, after visiting a twist club, the Beatles discover that Grandfather has bribed a butler out of his dress clothes and gone to a gambling club. There they find him making quite an impression on a good-looking young woman, and despite his protests they take him back to the hotel. At the television studio on the following day, production delays enable the Beatles to wander about, and consequently they become involved in minor incidents, much to the disgruntlement of the director. Grandfather, who has been badgering Ringo about his status in the group, finally succeeds in provoking the drummer to strike out on his own. The Beatles and their managers begin to search for the missing Ringo, but Grandfather finds him in a police station and runs to tell the others. They rescue Ringo and after a wild chase return to the studio just in time for the performance. At the end of the final number, Grandfather rises through the stage floor on an elevator. The Beatles board a helicopter for their next appearance.
H. L. Bird
John D. Merriman
Dougie Millings & Son
Best Writing, Screenplay
A Hard Day's Night
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
A Hard Day's Night
A Hard Day's Night on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD
A Hard Day's Night turned out to be one of the happiest film accidents of the 1960s. David Picker signed United Artists on barely knowing what he was getting into, and the deal was closed so quickly that UA ceded ultimate ownership to producer Walter Shenson. But the choice of director was ideal for all parties. The Beatles had no intention of making a standard rock 'n' roll exploitation picture. For every Jailhouse Rock, four major embarrassments showed unhappy singers lip-synching to playback and sharing the stage with whatever pop act the record companies were pushing that year. American director Richard Lester had worked with The Goons and Peter Sellers, and the Beatles approved of his anarchic approach to comedy. Working with a script by Alun Owen, a writer familiar with Liverpool argot, Lester fashioned a wild farce that combined convincing newsreel-like action with a satire of a 'typical' day in the life for the Beatles. Viewers would get plenty of privileged time to hang out with the four most admired young men in the world.
Although scripted, A Hard Day's Night is so freely assembled that audiences thought the Beatles were making it all up as they went along. The Fab Four avoid teeming mobs of teenaged girls, attend parties, give reporters grief and amuse each other in hotels and on trains. They display their public personalities, ratcheted up three notches in cleverness. Paul's crotchety grandfather (Wilfred Brambell) gets in constant trouble making petty side deals; Ringo becomes melancholy and wanders off just as rehearsals for a big television performance get underway. The neurotic Telly director comes unglued - will they make it back to the studio by airtime?
There's nothing quite like this film: it's hard to imagine a better Beatles introduction to the mass audience. The show often takes on the look of a verité documentary, and displays a cutting style that captures perfectly the Beatles' impish sense of humor and effusive spontaneity. The lads give their minders headaches while tormenting (in good fun) the fussy BBC types preparing a video concert. Although never as bleakly absurd as an average Goon skit, the comedy draws upon silent-movie slapstick and silliness for its own sake -- but always in the service of character. Some of the Beatle interactions with passersby are inspired, such as John's impromptu love scene with an actress (Anna Quayle) in a narrow hallway. Sidebar gags suitable for a comic strip frequently intrude, like some business with a car thief ignored by the Bobbies that dash about like Keystone Cops. To create a break from the hectic pace, Director Lester takes time out for a slower sequence in which a lonely Ringo wanders down by the riverbank. Without his band mates he's just another sad-faced bloke. Viewers were dazzled by the Beatles and charmed by a stunning new visual approach. Lester continued this anarchic comedy style in his follow-up romantic comedy The Knack ... and How to Get It.
Great care was taken to integrate the musical interludes into the film fabric. The first is the most daring -- the boys are playing cards in a train's baggage car when a song starts to play. Across a cut they've suddenly unpacked their equipment and are performing to a small audience of fans peering through a wire mesh fence. The reality then switches back, and yet it all seems perfectly natural. There's also the revolutionary "Can't Buy Me Love" sequence, that compresses the energy of a year into one brief music video-like playground romp. George Martin arranged a half-dozen instrumental cues that would now be classified as easy listening covers; since UA's original soundtrack album is no longer in print these can only be heard in the movie. The best is Martin's arrangement of "This Boy", which becomes a theme for Ringo. The fireworks are of course reserved for the finale, when The Beatles perform for a hall packed with screaming teenage girls. Brilliantly edited, it helped ignite the pandemonium of Beatlemania -- American kids yelled and cheered in film screenings as well.
A Hard Day's Night made us think we were privy to the 'true' personalities of the Beatles. It places the four non-actors in such familiar situations that they often seem to be 'behaving' more than acting. Today an entire PR company would be in charge of the spin given the Beatles' image, but in this movie those decisions seem to have been arrived at by pure professional insight. The boys are mostly kept away from their hordes of star-crazed fans, leaving their status vaguely 'available' -- no girlfriends (or wives) are in evidence to make the average female fan feel resentful or inadequate. The tearful, hysterical girls that pour out their hearts at the finale are a phenomenon that the Beatles couldn't deal with individually, so the only recourse was to be remote Gods of music. The movies flattened and scrubbed Elvis into a boring self-parody, but with intuitive marketing savvy (no committee, no focus group) the Beatles' renown was amplified a hundred-fold. United Artists got an incredible bargain, but the Beatles became superstars bigger than anything Hollywood had seen in decades.
The hotel staff, reporters, and television personnel are wildlife naturally found in the Beatles' habitat. Amusing Wilfrid Brambell gets major screen time, and luckily isn't too distracting. His character gives the boys someone to bounce off of and argue with. Grandfather's sour, caustic attitude also provides a baseline to insure that the Beatles' constant snippy remarks don't come off as cynical. The neurotic fashion exec (Kenneth Haigh) doesn't recognize George and tries to squeeze him as a resource for 'what the kids think'. The scene shows the Beatles transcending marketing hogwash mainly by ignoring it. George is soon shown the door, but not before introducing a new word to the lexicon: grotty.
This one movie is perhaps the greatest national advertisement England ever exported. Contrasted with the violent divisiveness blanketing the news media here in the States, that island looked like Utopia. The police were sweet and thoughtful. Everyone was into rock music (sure they were...) and Youth seemed to rule all. The film gave American fans their first chance to see what the Beatles were like. It differentiated them by type: the cute one, the cool one, the quiet one and the funny one. With modifications, these public images stayed the same throughout their partnership. The frustration came when the Beatles attempted to evolve beyond the public images so firmly established here.
The Criterion Collection's Blu-ray + DVD of A Hard Day's Night is a definitive edition of this beloved rock musical. The B&W HD transfer pulls everything out of Gilbert Taylor's marvelous images, transporting us back to the days when everything from England seemed perfect -- even if civilians in the street are almost always wearing raincoats.
A DVD from 2002 had vandalized the film's audio mix by replacing the song tracks with stereophonic versions. Criterion's new release offers three audio choices, an original monaural track plus new stereo and 5.1DTS-HD Master Audio surround mixes, all uncompressed on the Blu-ray.
The new disc has overcome another limitation of the older DVD extras -- Criterion is able to use Beatles music where appropriate, out of context with the film itself. A 2002 commentary offers filming memories from cast and crewmembers, but the Collection's excellent video extras are a comprehensive resource. In Their Own Voices (18 minutes) edits Beatle interview material to produce an opinion montage about the making of the film. You Can't Do That is a 1994 anniversary docu that includes an outtake of a Beatles song. Things They Said Today assembles an excellent compendium of interviews, stills and clips. As it is also from the 2002 DVD, no Beatles music is heard. Helpful little arrows identify marginal actors and personalities in the clips. Richard Lester has the best quote: "They told me I was the father of MTV. I wrote back and demanded a blood test."
In Anatomy of a Style the film's story editor and music editor discuss the treatment of the musical sequences. Picturewise is a thoughtful video essay on Richard Lester by David Cairns, narrated by Rita Tushingham. Beatles biographer Mark Lewisohn's The Road to A Hard Day's Night is an absorbing, concise history of the quartet from their teenaged beginnings up until the production of their first movie. The final video extra is Lester's Oscar-nominated The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film (1960), a short comedy made with The Goons. Two reissue trailers are included as well.
The fat insert booklet (80 pages) contains an essay by Howard Hampton and interview excerpts from director Lester. Criterion's disc producer is Kim Hendrickson.
By Glenn Erickson
A Hard Day's Night on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD
That's not your grandfather.- George
It is, you know.- Paul
But I've seen your grandfather, he lives in your house.- George
He can talk then, can he?- John
'Course he can talk. He's a human being, isn't he?- Paul
Well if he's your grandfather, who knows! Ha ha ha!- Ringo
And we'll have that thing off as well, thank you.- Man on Train
An elementary knowledge of the Railway Acts would tell you that I'm perfectly within my rights.- Man on Train
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!- Paul
Then I suggest you take that damned thing to the corridor or some other part of the train where you obviously belong.- Man on Train
Give us a kiss.- John
Don't take that tone with me young man. I fought the war for your sort.- Man on train
I bet you're sorry you won.- Ringo
I shall call the guard.- Man On Train
Ah, but what? They don't take kindly to insults you know.- Paul
The constant mention of Paul's grandfather being "very clean" are references to actor Wilfrid Brambell playing a rag and bone man in "Steptoe and Son" (1962), featuring the catch-phrase, "You dirty old man."
Norm and Shake are loosely based on the Beatles' real-life road managers Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans , respectively.
The people chasing the Beatles into the train at the beginning of the film are real fans.
The word "Beatles" is never mentioned in the movie.
The song "You Can't Do That" was cut from the concert scene at the end of the film, but the scene in which it is performed is still intact.
Copyright length: 90 min. Location scenes filmed in London. The working title of this film is The Beatles. Opened in London in July 1964.
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1964 New York Times Film Critics.
Limited re-release in United States July 4, 2014
Released in United States 1999
Released in United States April 1999
Released in United States January 1990
Released in United States January 1999
Released in United States March 1999
Released in United States October 2000
Released in United States September 1996
Released in United States Summer August 11, 1964
Re-released in United States December 1, 2000
Shown at Austin Film Festival October 12-19, 2000.
Shown at Cleveland International Film Festival (Special Event) March 18-28, 1999.
Shown at Palm Beach International Film Festival April 9-18, 1999.
Shown at San Francisco International Film Festival April 22 - May 6, 1999.
Shown at Santa Barbara International Film Festival March 4-14, 1999.
Shown at Sundance Film Festival (Sundance Collection) in Park City, Utah January 21-31, 1999.
Shown at United States Film Festival Park City, Utah January 20 & 21, 1990.
1999 re-release marks the film's 35th anniversary and features new footage, a fully restored negative and a digitally enhanced soundtrack.
Expanded re-release in USA (restored version) December 8, 2000.
Released in United States January 1990 (Shown at United States Film Festival Park City, Utah January 20 & 21, 1990.)
Released in United States January 1999 (Shown at Sundance Film Festival (Sundance Collection) in Park City, Utah January 21-31, 1999.)
Released in United States March 1999 (Shown at Cleveland International Film Festival (Special Event) March 18-28, 1999.)
Released in United States September 1996 (Shown in New York City (Walter Reade Theater) as part of program "CineRock: Loud Films Rare Music" September 1-12, 1996.)
Released in United States October 2000 (Shown at Austin Film Festival October 12-19, 2000.)
Released in United States 1999 (Shown at San Francisco International Film Festival April 22 - May 6, 1999.)
Released in United States March 1999 (Shown at Santa Barbara International Film Festival March 4-14, 1999.)
Released in United States April 1999 (Shown at Palm Beach International Film Festival April 9-18, 1999.)
Limited re-release in United States July 4, 2014 (Digitally restored version for the 50th anniversary of the film's original release.)
Released in United States Summer August 11, 1964
Re-released in United States December 1, 2000 (restored version; New York City and Los Angeles)
Re-released in United Kingdom April 13, 2001.