A Hard Day’s Night

A Hard Day’s Night
Director: Richard Lester
Screenplay: Alun Owen
Stars: 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), Deryck Guyler (Police Inspector), Richard Vernon (Man on Train), Edward Malin (Hotel Waiter), Robin Ray (TV Floor Manager)
MPAA Rating: G
Year of Release: 1964
Country: U.K.
A Hard Day’s Night Criterion Collection Blu-ray
A Hard Day’s NightIn his book A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema, 1930–1980, Richard B. Ray summarizes in a single sentence what was so fundamentally revolutionary about the first Beatles film: “Not until Richard Lester’s film, A Hard Day’s Night (1964), would the movies figure out a form for rock and roll.” There had been plenty of efforts during the preceding decade—dozens of low-budget rock’n’roll teenpics like Rock Around the Clock (1956) that played the drive-in circuit and, of course, the numerous Elvis Presley vehicles like Jailhouse Rock (1957)—but none of them truly matched content and style. The teenpics were typical juvenile fare with a big dance sequence or concert at the end, and the Elvis movies were little more than classical Hollywood musicals redressed for the King.

But A Hard Day’s Night was different. The irreverence of the Beatles themselves, with their moptops, skinny ties, and Liverpool slang, was reflected in the film’s jagged vérité style, which gave its fictionalized day-in-the-life-of-the-Beatles narrative a jolt of visual spontaneity that made it feel real and lived-in, even when the characters were defying the laws of physics. Lester, who at the time was known primarily as a director of television comedy, borrowed the aesthetics of neorealism and the French New Wave—handheld cameras, location shooting, discontinuity editing—and turned it to comedic purposes, which ironically introduced more American viewers to the stylistic innovations of European art cinema than European art cinema itself. A Hard Day’s Night was an art film and an exploitation film, a comedy and a musical, a celebration of the Beatles and a satire of their fame and fortune. It was—and in many ways still is—unclassifiable, which is why it still feels so fresh and alive. Its inventiveness blows away commercial pretenses, although ironically the film was crucial in fomenting the full, worldwide explosion of Beatlemania (which was one of the film’s original titles before they settled on A Hard Day’s Night, drawn from one of Ringo’s malapropisms).

The film’s genesis was purely commercial in the worst way: United Artists, the Beatles’ music distributor, wanted to create a soundtrack of new songs, but needed a film to justify it. However, their fundamental disinterest in the film itself—really, anything would do as long as it featured the Beatles and new music they could sell—freed Lester to experiment and innovate, to essentially make a whacked-out lark of a film that would genuinely reflect, not just star, the Lads From Liverpool. He turned to writer Alun Owen, who had worked primarily in television, to put together a script, and Owen wisely stepped away from the Elvis practice of playing fictional characters and wrote slightly exaggerated versions of the Beatles themselves, centering the film around a day in their harried collective life.

Thus, John, Paul, George, and Ringo wouldn’t have to stretch their nascent acting range to do anything other than play up their own well-publicized characteristics, which meant that John got to play the troublemaker, Paul got to play he peacemaker, George got to play the laconic middle man, and Ringo got to play the fool. The willingness of the Beatles to parody themselves demonstrates a fundamental lack of ego that made their initial work together so refreshing and invigorating. Watching the film, you sense real joy in their collaboration, which is infectious. Lester’s free-wheeling style helps, as well, which we see in the very first shot of the Beatles escaping a mob of crazed fans by running down a street toward the camera. George slips and Ringo tumbles over him, causing John to break out in laughter. It’s a beautiful, funny moment that was purely an accident, yet effectively summarizes what makes the film so imminently watchable.

Despite its seemingly tossed-off, improvised nature, much of A Hard Day’s Night is purposefully structured, and some of its best moments rely the screenplay’s sharp and witty dialogue. Owen surrounds the Beatles with various fictional characters, including Paul’s cantankerous grandfather, played by veteran character actor Wilfrid Brambell (the repeated verbal jokes about him being “clean” are a reference to his character on the popular British television show Steptoe and Son, who is a “dirty old man”); the band’s increasingly exasperated manager Norm (Norman Rossington); and a pompous television director (Victor Spinetti) who is staging a live Beatles show that naturally plays as the film’s climax. Lester works the film’s now iconic songs—“A Hard Day’s Night,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “She Loves You,” and so on—into the film in various ways: sometimes overlaying the action, sometimes as part of the action. But, no matter how he does it, it feels right; his inventiveness feels utterly natural, which is ironic given the film’s wildly experimental nature (Andrew Sarris was absolutely right when he called it “the Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals”). Art cinema was never so much fun.

A Hard Day’s Night Criterion Collection Blu-ray / DVD Combo Set

Aspect Ratio1.75:1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 surround
  • English Linear PCM 1.0 monaural
  • SubtitlesEnglish
  • Audio commentary featuring cast and crew
  • In Their Own Voices, a new piece combining 1964 interviews with the Beatles with behind-the-scenes footage and photos
  • “You Can’t Do That”: The Making of A Hard Day’s Night (1994) documentary
  • Things They Said Today (2002) documentary
  • “Picturewise,” a new piece about Lester’s early work, featuring a new audio interview with the director
  • The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film (1960), Lester’s Oscar-nominated short
  • “Anatomy of a Style,” a new piece on Lester’s methods
  • New interview with author Mark LewisohnInsert booklet featuring an essay by critic Howard Hampton and excerpts from a 1970 interview with Lester
  • DistributorThe Criterion Collection
    Release DateJune 24, 2014

    The liner notes included with the disc offer several pages explaining how the new 4K digital restoration of A Hard Day’s Night was created. Suffice it to say that the work was extensive and exhaustive, and the resulting image, approved by director Richard Lester, is simply stunning. The image is crisp, sharp, and boasts beautiful contrast and grayscale to bring out the depth and textures in the image. There are no signs of age and wear, and I have no doubt that this is the best the film has looked since Lyndon Johnson was President. (There may be some minor controversy over the 1.75:1 aspect ratio given that the film has most frequently been framed at 1.66:1, but there is plenty of evidence that the slightly wider framing was the preferred one for theatrical presentation.) Of course, given that the film was cerated to showcase the Beatles’ music, it is little surprise that even more work was put into the restoration of the soundtrack, resulting in three different audio options: the original monaural soundtrack, a newly created stereo soundtrack, and a newly created 5.1 surround mix. The latter two mixes were supervised by sound producer Giles Martin at Abbey Road Studios and are presented in stunning uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. The care that went into the restoration and remixing of the soundtracks shows, as the six-channel mix doesn’t sound forced or unnatural, yet really opens up the music and makes it feel simultaneously new and familiar—deeper and richer than I’ve ever heard. I don’t think we could ask for a better presentation of this groundbreaking film.
    Criterion released A Hard Day’s Night back in their laserdisc days, but the new Blu-ray adds substantially to the supplements included back then. There is a new audio commentary featuring cast and crew, although it was put together from material originally recorded by filmmaker Martin Lewis in 2002 when he was making his documentary Things They Said Today, which is also included here. The commentary and the documentary feature director Richard Lester, music producer George Martin, screenwriter Alun Owen, and cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, among others. Also from the archives is “You Can’t Do That”: The Making of A Hard Day’s Night, an hour-long 1994 documentary by producer Walter Shenson and hosted by Phil Collins, who appears briefly in the film as one of the Beatles-mad teenagers at the final concert. The documentary is quite thorough in tracing the film’s production and reception, and it also includes an outtake performance by the Beatles that had previously been unseen. Those interested in Richard Lester will enjoy “Picturewise,” a new piece about his early work that features a new audio interview with the director, and The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film (1960), his Oscar-nominated short film that essentially got him the job directing A Hard Day’s Night. Also new to Criterion’s edition is In Their Own Voices, a video piece combining 1964 interviews with the Beatles with behind-the-scenes footage and photos; “Anatomy of a Style,” a video piece in which story editor and screenwriter Bobbie O’Steen and music editor Suzana Peric discuss Lester’s innovative filmmaking techniques in five of the film’s music sequences; and an interview with author Mark Lewisohn, who has written numerous books on the Beatles. The insert booklet is particularly impressive, as it features an essay by critic Howard Hampton and extensive excerpts from a 1970 interview with Lester about the film’s genesis and production.

    Copyright ©2014 James Kendrick

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © The Criterion Collection

    Overall Rating: (4)

    James Kendrick

    James Kendrick offers, exclusively on Qnetwork, over 2,500 reviews on a wide range of films. All films have a star rating and you can search in a variety of ways for the type of movie you want. If you're just looking for a good movie, then feel free to browse our library of Movie Reviews.

    © 1998 - 2020 Qnetwork.com - All logos and trademarks in this site are the property of their respective owner.