A Hard Day’s Night

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I’m not sure if I’m going to end up overestimating A Hard Day’s Night because I grew up listening to The Beatles and have a hard time saying anything against them, or if I’m going to end up underestimating A Hard Day’s Night because The Beatles were such a big part of my childhood and therefore don’t seem to have very much cinematic legitimacy in my eyes. To say I enjoyed the movie is an understatement, but is it a great film? I’ve been assured via reviews (linked at bottom as usual) that the film is incredibly influential, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to see that through all of my fangirling.

The film is a documentary of sorts, showing The Beatles preparing for a television broadcast in London. John, Paul, George, and Ringo all play themselves, but the rest of the main characters are played by actors. Apparently most of the extras in the film were real live teenagers, so the film walks a fine line between reality and fiction. The film has a loose plot, most of which consists of the conflict between the band’s desire to just have fun and enjoy themselves and their managers’, Norm and Shake (Norman Rossington and John Junkin), attempts to keep them under control. Fueling this is Paul’s mischievous grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell) who gets into all sorts of trouble, and in the film’s final moments, encourages Ringo to take some time for himself, almost causing him to miss the band’s all important broadcast.

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After a very sudden opening of the band being chased by crazed teenage fans, the film takes quite a long time setting everything up. The events in the beginning all seem kind of random, but eventually a pattern emerges and everything gets tied up. There are several gags throughout the film that get resolved in neat ways. There’s a bit  between Norm and Shake involving their height difference that’s quite humorous. All throughout the film, basically everyone who encounters Paul’s wily grandfather remarks that he looks “clean,” and then John finally tells him that he isn’t. John has been calling Norm a swine for the whole picture, but at the end, Norm manages to call John a swine. This type of stuff with everyone getting their comeuppances was really charming to me for some reason.

The overall arc of the film is mainly The Beatles goofing off and the managers trying to control them, but to me, many of the individual scenes of the film are more entertaining that the larger conflict as a whole. There’s an interesting scene where George is mistaken for a male model, and asked to do a commercial for men’s shirts. (If you’re into Mad Men I can pretty much guarantee you’ll appreciate this scene.) George gives his unfavorable opinion of the shirts, and the company’s advertising strategy in general. The ad man (Kenneth Haigh) completely discounts it, which is funny because he is unwittingly talking to one of the most famous people for his target demographic. The other key sequence is when Ringo escapes on his own. Paul’s grandfather tells him to get his head out of books and start living, and he basically just wanders around town taking pictures, causing no trouble at all, but gets picked up by the police anyway.

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Now, this film is a bit hard to classify. I’ve classified it as a musical, because there are songs in the film that seem to spring out of the moment and are not necessarily formal performances according to the plot. It’s not like any other musical I’ve seen though. A lot of the songs play more like music videos than anything else, most famously for “Can’t Buy Me Love” when the four escape from the television studio and run around a field, photographed mostly from a helicopter. This instance is another example of me not noticing how special this song was when I was watching the movie; we’re all so used to music video like this now that I didn’t realize while watching that this is considered the first. Other songs are done in literal concerts or rehearsals, and there’s another one done on a train.

So I suppose A Hard Day’s Night ends up being a pretty good movie. Some aspects of its legacy are now so commonplace that I had a hard time picking up on them while watching the film with my modern perspective, but the links at the bottom will illuminate that more if you so desire. I certainly enjoyed the film greatly, though I’m not sure if non-Beatles fans will feel the same way. The film is a cult of personality in a way, but the freewheeling desire for freedom that is so indicative of the ’60s elevates it beyond that.

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“Um no, I’m a mocker.”

Long story short: 3.5/4 stars

For Further Reading:

Best Picture Project review 
Roger Ebert “Great Movies” review
Howard Hampton’s essay for The Criterion Collection

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