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Hard Day's Night, A (1964)

Main image of Hard Day's Night, A (1964)
35mm, black and white, 85 mins
Directed byRichard Lester
Production CompanyProscenium Films Ltd
Produced byWalter Shenson
Screenplay byAlun Owen
PhotographyGilbert Taylor
Songs byJohn Lennon, Paul McCartney

Cast: John Lennon (John); Paul McCartney (Paul); George Harrison (George); Ringo Starr (Ringo); Wilfrid Brambell (John McCartney, Paul's grandfather); Norman Rossington (Norm); John Junkin (Shake)

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An imaginary day in the life of The Beatles, who travel to London by train and headline a television variety show, with many diversions along the way.

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It is the relationship of The Beatles to their fans that gives A Hard Day's Night its dynamic. They are a band on the run, and a high energy level continues for much of the film. What further distinguishes this from earlier British pop musicals is an emphasis on 'the group' rather than solo singer. While they flirt with schoolgirls on the train and with dancers in television studio, the group's unity would be broken were any member to become romantically involved.

This differentiates A Hard Day's Night from the films of Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard. And unlike Dick Lester's previous pop revue musical It's Trad, Dad! (1962), stylistically a trial run for A Hard Day's Night, only one pop act is featured. The Beatles also add regionalism to the mix with their Liverpudlian wit, and display a casual, 'irreverent' attitude and lack of deference to their elders. The young should be free to enjoy themselves free from restraint, and humour is used to deflate traditionalists, like Richard Vernon's train carriage gent, who resist the new attitudes. Such reactionaries aside, the Beatles infectious music appeals to all classes and generations.

At the television studio, where The Beatles are to top the bill in a variety show, they are presented as 'the new', in stark contrast to the 'traditional' acts which are gently sent up. Alun Owen's screenplay blends fictional characters (like Paul's granddad) with many seemingly improvised visual gags (including a frantic 'Keystone Kops'-style chase) in the style of Lester's 1960 short The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film.

A Hard Day's Night was quickly shot in early 1964 and released in July, but its impact proved impossible to repeat. The Beatles' follow-up film Help! (d. Lester, 1965), though financially successful, struck many a false note, and musicals starring other British pop groups did not have the same success. The Dave Clark Five vehicle Catch Us if You Can (d. John Boorman, 1965) was very different in tone, while the Gerry and the Pacemakers movie Ferry Cross the Mersey (d. Jeremy Summers, 1964) has faded into obscurity.

A Hard Day's Night did not revolutionise the British film musical, but it is a key text of 1960s British cinema and culture, and its influence on television music video can be seen to this day. The film's French title (translated as Four Guys Caught in the Wind) sums it up perfectly.

Roger Philip Mellor

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Video Clips
Monthly Film Bulletin review
This Week 409: Beatlemania (1963)
Beatles, The
Brambell, Wilfrid (1912-1985)
Harris, Julie (1921-)
Harrison, George (1943-2001)
Lester, Richard (1932-)
Nimmo, Derek (1930-1999)
Owen, Alun (1925-1994)
Shenson, Walter (1919-2000)
Starr, Ringo (1940-)
Taylor, Gilbert (1914-)
Liverpool: Sounds of the City