May 122012


As A Hard Day’s Night opens with that famous chord, we are tossed straight into battle as we follow John, George, and Ringo running like hell to escape a screaming mob of school kids. George trips and falls on the sidewalk and Ringo falls right on top of him but they take the tumble in stride, laughing as rise.  Although the fall was an accident, director Richard Lester wisely left it in the final cut, and in doing so he preserved forever the youthful exuberance of the boys in the midst of the chaotic ‘Beatlemania around them.  Writer Alun Owen successfully carries this exuberant trait throughout his witty and very effervescent script of a fictional day-in-the-life of The Beatles, and the result was instant classic.

After escaping the fans at Victoria Station, we’re introduced to Paul’s grandfather, who’s nursing a broken heart, and has been put in Paul’s care for the time being. Grandfather, with his dour expression and big glasses looks harmless enough, but Paul warns his mates that he’s “a king mixer” and will stop at nothing to get people into a fight. The running joke is that Grandfather is ‘a clean old man’, but he’s anything but. He chases away some schoolgirls on the train that George, John, and Paul are trying to impress, get’s the boy’s manager Norm angry at their roadie, Shake, for being taller than he is, flirts with a buxom gambler, and in a manipulation that nearly causes a production shutdown, convinces Ringo to escape into a London adventure.  (He tells Ringo he should be out paradin’ instead of readin’ a bloomin’ book).

If Paul’s Grandfather is a problem, he’s only one of the adults here who have little respect for the young musicians. There is an undercurrent of the embryonic generation gap to come, with continuous friction between the old guard and the new. The Beatles often become the victim of their elder’s poor attitude and management, yet they  often manage to outwit the adults and even escape for a brief idyll in the fresh air, playing like school kids in an open field to the strains of Can’t Buy Me Love. But even that joy is cut short by a groundskeeper who admonishes them for being on private property. “Sorry we hurt your field, Mister,” shrugs George.  And it’s back to the runaround of preparing for their TV appearance.

Yet for all the rushing from scene to scene, AHDN has many small and quietly funny moments as well.  George admiring the legs of a pretty secretary as he was accidently mistaken for a model and auditioned by a snobby fashion director. In another scene, George teaches roadie Shake to shave while John plays with a toy submarine.  Later, when an actress mistakes John for a former lover, he plays along.

As fictional versions of themselves, writer Alun Owen captured The Beatles’ individual traits in a lovable, realistic manner. Each was given a distinct ‘character’, which reflected their true-life personalities. Although they’re squeaky clean, you just know that there’s serious working class grit under all that beautiful hair. The comebacks to the adults are classic:  When a middle-aged  banker snaps at the boys for playing their transistor radio on the train and asserts his rights for being a regular passenger, John leans into him and smiles  “Give us a kiss!”   At a press reception where the drinks and canapés keep passing them by, they get back at the reporters stupid questions with snappy, screw-you answers:

Reporter: Has success changed your life?
George: Yes.

Reporter: Do you often see your father?
Paul: No, actually, we’re just good friends.

Reporter: Are you a mod or a rocker?
Ringo: Um, no. I’m a mocker.

Reporter: Do you have any hobbies?
John:  (writes on her pad), The answer shocks her – from the quickness of the writing and the way he dotted an ‘i’, we suspect he wrote Tits)

A Hard Day’s Night could not have been filmed at a better moment in time; after The Beatles had made their U.S. debut and before they had grown too tired of endless touring, instead committing themselves to semi-exile at Abbey Road Studios. At the time it was filmed, no one knew that The Beatles would become legendary or even last a year, for it was just conceived as a quick money-maker for United Artists. But Richard Lester and Alun Owen knew this couldn’t be a run-of-the-mill-Elvis picture, and gave it a radical new style of musical cinema that would be imitated for decades.  We can only be thankful.

No Snacking Game this week, unless you want a drink every time a girl screams! But please tell me –Who’s Your Favorite Beatle?  (Mine was, is, and forever will be: Gorgeous George!)


Phil Collins was one of the lucky kids who got to be in the audience during the filming of the movie. However, he can only be seen during the song “You Can’t Do That”, which was cut from the movie.

George met his future (first) wife on the set of AHDN; Model and starlet Pattie Boyd and was instantly smitten. They married in 1966.

Memorable Quotes:

George: She’s a drag, a well-known drag! We turn the sound down on her and say rude things.

You’re a swine!

Oh Yes , I’d be quite prepared for that eventuality.

Quit bein’ taller than me!

More wonderful quotes.

Cast and Crew:

John Lennon … John, Paul McCartney … Paul, George Harrison … George, Ringo Starr … Ringo
Wilfrid Brambell … Grandfather, Norman Rossington … Norm, John Junkin … Shake, Victor Spinetti … T.V. Director, Anna Quayle … Millie, Deryck Guyler… Police Inspector, Richard Vernon … Man on Train Edward Malin … Hotel Waiter, Robin Ray … T.V. Floor Manager, Lionel Blair … T.V. Choreographer Alison Seebohm … Secretary David Janson … Young Boy

Written by Alun Owen, Directed By Richard Lester, Produced by Walter Shensen


  7 Responses to “Retro Reel Review #5 A Hard Day’s Night (1964)”

  1. By the way, in researching this movie, I was astonished to learn that Wilfrid Brambell(Grandfather), was only 56 at the time of filming and Richard Vernon as the Banker on the Train was only39!!! Both character actors were often cast as characters much older than themselves, well they sure fooled me!

  2. The title song was the #1 hit on the charts the day I was born — cool as Hell!

  3. When I put this on my list of Greatest Movie Musicals, I rarely get any disagreement. After all, it’s funnier, better-directed, better-acted, and has better music than all but a few you can name.

    When the movie came out, it got great reviews, Most of the critics were, as you said, expecting just another dumb Elvis-style ripoff. When they got this, they raved. The greatest praise went to Ringo. Some even compared him to Chaplin as a comic actor and predicted he would be the one to branch off from the group and become a movie star. Didn’t happen, of course, but it did inspire The Beatles to cover the Buck Owens song “Act Naturally” (“They’re gonna put me in the movies/They’re gonna make a big star out of me”) with Ringo singing lead.

    Favorite Beatle: John.

    Favorite quote: After a stagehand angers Ringo by fiddling with his drum kit and Ringo stalks off, George reproves the man: “He’s very fussy about his drums, you know. They loom large in his legend.”

  4. I remember seeing this in the theater, and being wowed by the experience of seeing them larger than life. My favorite Beatle is Paul.

  5. I fell in love with this movie in 1990, when I was 12. It’s brilliant! My sister and I quoted it endlessly for the next nine years. Now my girls, six and 10, have picked up the torch.

    Richard Lester said that for the press meet-and-greet scene, he followed the boys around a real event and wrote down what they actually said. Which is, of course, AWESOME.

    I always interpreted the scene with the actress (referenced above) differently. I think the actress recognizes John as John, and he then pretends not to be. “My nose,” he protests, to which she replies, “Oh yes, your nose is very.” “You know him (John) better than I do,” John teases. “It’s all over the

    Love it.

  6. Another great quote

    (Paul’s grandfather, about Ringo):

    “Paulie, don’t mock the afflicted. He can’t help having a hideous great hooter. And the poor little head, trembling under the weight of it.”

    I die.

  7. Great quote, I heart beat, and I think he says “gray’ instead of great, but I could be wrong. I’ll have to listen to it again!
    And Melville John is a close second in my favorites (sigh!). And yes, the critics loved Ringo (who wouldn’t) but Ringo himself said he was completely hungover in the scene where he’s walking the river bank.
    One of my favorite Ringo quotes here is
    “Come in number seven,your time’s up!”
    Of course the tag line in the scene with John and Millie is classic, and he head up the stairs, he mutters “She looks more like him than I do!” lol
    There’s a sadly prophetic line in the movie too, where their manager, Norm, says “I’ll murder that Lennon!”
    I think George, John, and Ringo were all fine actors in this, I only found Paul’s acting to be a tad forced. But all in all they did great for never having never acted before.

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