A Hard Day’s Night (1964) Director: Richard Lester
A Hard Day’s Night is a nonstop fun, anarchistic, irreverent “mockumentary” film by Dick Lester (he also directed The Beatles’s next film Help!). It purports to follow The Beatles through a day in the life, at the height of their popularity. The film is rife with all manner of gags, one-liners, and situational humor drawn from a trove of silent comedy films. In a word, it refuses to take itself too seriously.
In essence, the film opens with The Beatles running from hoards of fans (while the theme-song plays), poking fun at the height of Beatle-mania. They hide out in phone booths, Paul McCartney dons facial hair, until they escape onto a train. Paul brings along his “very clean,” but troublesome grandfather (the “very clean” line is in reference to the actor Wilfrid Brambel playing a “dirty old man” in a British sitcom). The four of them cause mayhem in and around their train car (in one scene John is snorting a bottle of “Coke”). The four Beatles flirt with some girls on the train (notably, Patti Boyd is among them -George Harrison’s future wife for whom he likely found the inspiration for songs like “Something”). Paul’s grandfather tells the girls that The Beatles are prisoners, which John amusingly plays up in a gag (“bet you can’t guess what I was in for!”), and then ironically they, in turn, ‘imprison’ Paul’s grandfather. The train takes them to London station where, again, they must escape the huge crowds of fans. They run through one set of cars to their getaway car that speeds off to their hotel. They get cooped up in their hotel room and their manager asks them to respond to huge piles of fan mail, but they escape to a dance party. Meanwhile, Paul’s grandfather is lost, gambling at a casino. The next morning, they are scheduled to record a television performance. They arrive at the studio and run through a small tent to get inside (it turns out to be a homeless man’s tent unbeknownst to anyone). In one of the best scenes in the film, each of the four Beatles is asked a series of amusing questions by the press, while The Beatles are constantly prevented from eating or drinking (poking fun at true situations).
George is asked by the press: “What do you call that haircut?” To which he responds: “Arthur.” John is asked: “Tell me, how did you find America?” To which John responds: “Turn left at Greenland.” George is asked: “Has success changed your life?” And he blankly responds: “Yes.” Ringo is asked: “Are you a mod or a rocker?” To which he responds: “I’m a mocker.” Paul repeatedly provides a response: “No we’re actually just good friends,” which we later learn is a repeated response to the question: “Do you see your father often?” None of the Beatles are able to drink or eat at the party.
After a quick rehearsal, they flee out a fire escape to a memorable scene of jumping and running to the tune of “Can’t Buy Me Love.” They all become separated so that each Beatle has his own moment in the film (except, ironically, Paul): John is recognized by a woman named “Millie” (played by famous English actress Anna Quayle) but she cannot remember who he is, George is mistaken for a model in advertising agency but he rejects their “grotty” (or grotesque) clothes, and Ringo is convinced by Paul’s grandfather that he is being taken advantage of, so he goes wandering away (there is a memorable scene of a despondent Ringo walking along the river while an instrumental version of “This Boy” plays -he was actually truly feeling terrible the morning of the shooting). He exchanges his suit for ratty clothes and gets arrested at the same time Paul’s grandfather gets arrested for selling his fraudulent, autographed photographs of The Beatles. The last part of the film concerns the remaining three Beatles rescuing Ringo from jail and returning in time for the shooting of their television performance in front of an audience of screaming fans.
A Hard Day’s Night won an Academy Award for Alun Owen’s screenplay. The film is often cited as the inspiration for the music video genre, the rock musical, as well as the “mockumentary” films to follow.
A Hard Day’s Night is a surprisingly fun and influential film. There are far too many cheeky gags to list: such as a car thief being mistaken to help the police, a wounded man in a restaurant pouring ketchup on his bloody wound, a running joke about their manager being short, an inside joke about their grandfather being “clean” (to which John finally asks: “are you?”), the whole scene where the press interviews The Beatles, George teaching his manager to shave with a straight razor (on a mirror)… On the surface, the film pokes fun at the stuffy, upper-crust, bourgeois values of post-war England, but it also makes fun of itself for doing so. It is a wonderful comedy film that is hopeful in tone. Despite not taking itself too seriously, the film has actually been considered by serious critics to be one of the better comedy films to emerge from 1960s.