A Hard Day’s Night is a film from 1964. Directed by Richard Lester and starring the Beatles, as you may have surmised from the title, who were riding high at the height of Beatlemania Possibly from drugs as well. This was the era of hippies after all. In any case, let’s take a gander at the film.
We open with The Beatles running from hordes of fans while the titular song plays. After a bunch of Benny Hill style shenanigans, they manage to reach their train. George, Ringo & John are surprised to find that Paul’s brought his granddad along. Paul describes him as a rascal and a troublemaker, but says he was asked to bring him because he needs a change of scenery. The film then follows the fab four as they try to get through their concert while dealing with fallout from the elder McCartney’s troublesome behaviour. It doesn’t help that the Beatles themselves are quite fond of causing shenanigans.
The biggest issue I have with the film, narratively, is with the concert at the end. It’s kind of a lazy series of scenes where we see the Beatles play parts of songs we’ve already heard in full in other parts of the film while they show crowd shots of young people, mostly women, going crazy. And we already know that the Beatles caused a lot of moistness/ hardness in their prime so that doesn’t really do much. Another bit that bothers me a little is the whole chase scene with law enforcement. The chase scene is quite funny. It just never gets any proper closure.
On the positive side, the film’s sense of humour is pretty spot on. The part with the crotchety old man on the train is fantastic. Seeing George Harrison get dragged into a fashion office and giving them a piece of his mind is a great scene. The whole interview where you hear them all give absurd answers to questions is hilarious. The back and forth between John and their fictional manager, Norm, is great. And the vast majority of the jokes do hold up really well. The big exception there is the ongoing gag about Paul’s grandfather being very clean. Which was a reference to a sitcom the actor did but I only know that because I looked up some information about the film. I’m totally going to use that as an example of why references don’t work as jokes from now on.
The Beatles themselves are a lot of fun. They seem to be enjoying themselves and they do come across as highly charismatic, fun-loving lads. And I know the surviving band members are more than twice my age, but they were lads when this film was made. There are also some strong supporting characters for them to play off of. The grandfather’s trouble making serves to bring out a slightly more responsible part for the main cast. Which works nicely in allowing them to showcase a bit more depth.
Cinematography, Visuals and Effects
My big complaint, in terms of the visuals, is that the musical numbers they just sit and play are kind of boring and the lip-syncing that goes with them isn’t great. The film also features some songs that play while The Beatles engage in entertaining visual gags. The chase scene from the start and the field cavorting scene are both strong examples of that. And those musical scenes are amazing. The film does feature some strong visual gags as well.
Acting & Music:
The acting is really good, surprisingly so given that this was the band’s first foray into film. I think it does help that they’re just having a blast. The actors working alongside them are pretty clearly seasoned professionals and give strong performances as well. The songs are fantastic, as you would expect from the Beatles. There are classics like A Hard Day’s Night, Can’t Buy me love, And I love Her & She loves you to just name a few.
Areas of Improvement:
Time for everyone’s favourite segment, me talking about the specific things I’d change.
- Shorten the Concert scene. I already mentioned the problem with this scene but I also understand why they needed to show something for it. I’d just cut it down so you still get the idea but you aren’t sitting through so many segments of songs you’ve already heard.
- Give John and Norm some more scenes. Like I said, their trading jabs throughout the film is one of the best comedic parts. So, I’d play it up a bit more.
- Less Sitting, more action in musical numbers. Like I said, the best musical numbers are the ones where they’re actually doing something during while those that feature them sitting down and playing are a bit boring, even with the good music. So, I’d find some zany shenanigans for them to get up to during more of these segments.
For its time, this was a very influential film that set the standard for what a musical film should be. Over fifty years later, it holds up pretty well. The comedic elements largely work, the music is classic, and it’s just a lot of fun. I’ll give it a solid 7/10.