Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Stubs Goes Blu(-ray) - A Hard Day’s Night

Stubs Goes Blu(-Ray) is an occasional series wherein we reexamine a favorite classic that receives an enhanced presentation.

A Hard Day’s Night (1964) Starring John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr with Wilfrid Brambell. Directed by Richard Lester. Produced by Walter Shenson. Screenplay by Alun Owen. Songs by Lennon-McCartney. Run time 87 minutes. Black and White. British. Musical Comedy

My love of this film is nothing new. When I first started writing about film for Trophy Unlocked, the first film I wrote about was A Hard Day’s Night. I have managed to own this in every conceivable format, including Betacam and even a PC ROM version that took every other frame of the film. (I even for a while had producer Walter Shenson’s personal copy that I took photos from for a project at USC.) But the best version I’ve seen, short of in the theater, is the Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray version, which has been out for some time, but which I only recently had the time to watch. (So many movies, so little time).

There is nothing not to love about this film. A fictitious day in the life of what was at the time a force of nature, but which has, over time, been recognized as the greatest/biggest/most influential rock band of all time. So much has been written about them that I will not attempt to put my own spin on their story, but their music looms large in their legend and plays a very prominent role in the film. While most of the music was written specifically for the movie, including the title song, “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “I Should Have Known Better,” “If I Fell” and “And I Love Her,” they do perform one of their early greatest hits, “She Loves You,” one of the most infectious songs in all of pop/rock music.

In a script written specifically for them, by Alun Owen, the four Beatles come across as individuals with strong personalities and good senses of humor. While Paul doesn’t really get a vignette of his own, the others do with Ringo having received a lot of praise for his performance in the film. George, who is mistaken for a would-be actor, manages to deflate producer Simon Marshall’s (Kenneth Haigh) confidence in their resident teenager, Susan Canby, by giving his opinion and not caring how it’s taken. John has a shorter bit and interlude with Millie (Anna Quayle), who thinks she knows who he is until he convinces her he isn’t.

The supporting cast is also very strong, with all of them hitting their marks. They don’t get in the way of The Beatles and they are treated as more than just props for the humor, but there is a real give and take between themselves and with the Beatles. Wilfrid Brambell plays Paul’s other grandfather and given the obvious age differential seems to work well with them, especially Ringo, with whom he is paired with for part of the movie that sets Ringo out to parade about.

The Beatles are basically playing themselves or at least an idealized version of themselves and the film, made as quick exploitation, has turned into a classic of the rock film genre. Many groups have tried the formula from Gerry and the Pacemakers to The Ramones, but none has made a better film. A lot of that credit goes to director Richard Lester, who capitalizes on contemporary trends in filmmaking to bring the best out of everyone involved.

While The Beatles are certainly not Great Britain’s answer to the Four Marx Brothers, some comparisons are in order. Both rely on good screenplays and good chemistry with each member needing to be his own man, but also to work well within the confines of the group. And both groups seem to bring chaos with them to any given situation. The Marx Brothers are basically "controlled anarchy," while the Beatles’ presence destabilizes whatever situation they’re in.

Like Marx Brothers films, A Hard Day’s Night is funny, both verbally and visually. The dialogue, for the most part, sounds natural, giving the viewer the idea that they’re eavesdropping in on the group, rather than the fact they’re giving a bash at reading lines. The visual humor sometimes borders on the slapstick, as when Ringo puts down his raincoat in his best Walter Raleigh impersonation to let a woman avoid a mud pool, only to have her swallowed up by it.

John was busy the day they shot this sequence with Paul, Ringo and George.

There is an underlying sense of youthful rebellion under most of the film, as the Beatles keep running smack up against the “man”, whether it’s the regular train rider (Richard Vernon) they conflict with over the window and radio, the groundskeeper who chases them off the field they’re playing on during “Can’t Buy Me Love”, the TV director (Vincent Spinetti), who doesn’t know what to do with them, or even their own manager, Norm (Norman Rossington), whom Lennon constantly compares with a pig. But it is all played for fun, rather than for any overt political message.

The Beatles on tour, according to A Hard Day's Night.

Such was the phenomenon of the Beatles and the success of A Hard Day’s Night that it was mentioned in a recent college course, on Pop Culture, one of my sons took. The professor made the rather uninformed observation that the Beatles had made this film to show fans how to react to them. Perhaps he was unaware of the timing of the film, but it was made after they had already been to America and appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. They were not showing fans how to react, but showing how fans did react to them.

Seeing the film again is sort of like meeting up with an old friend after an absence of years. They are still warm and funny and can be counted on to make you feel good for the experience. Seeing the film again in Blu-Ray is a real delight. The camera work, much of which is handheld, still looks good and even better in high definition. The black and white cinematography is iconic, making the Beatles seem more uniform, or idealized than they really were.

John leans forward on the train to ask Paul "Who's that little old man?"

Any good film is worth seeing in the best possible setting. Theatrical films, even those in black and white shot in the Academy ratio, should be seen on the big screen. But if your local revival house or college classroom is not showing the film, then the next best thing would be the Blu-Ray. 

For other Beatles films, see our Beatles Film Review Hub:

Blu-ray screeencaps courtesy of

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