Created at the height of “Beatlemania” to guarantee the longevity and relevancy of The Beatles’ (Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr) careers and projects, A Hard Day’s Night is a musical comedy/mock-documentary that delights and captivates die-hard fans, occasional listeners, and all demographics in between.
The film, shot in cinéma vérité style in black and white, chronicles several days in the life of the most famous four lads in the entire world at the time as they travel from Liverpool to London for a televised performance. The film was directed by American director Richard Lester, who, by the mid-1960s, had several U.S. and British TV and film directing credits. The most prominent work amongst Lester’s was the short film The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film (1959), which captured the attention of The Beatles and prompted them to choose Lester for director . Alun Owen wrote the Academy Award-nominated screenplay for the film that was derived almost exclusively from organic, casual dialogue amongst the band members.George Martin scored the film by utilizing songs from the incredibly successful Beatles’ album of the same name and was nominated for an Academy Award as well.
From the very first scene of the film, chock-full of tracking shots of the four members running away from boisterous, adoring fans and set to “A Hard Day’s Night”, the energetic, feverish, and youthful tone of the film is firmly established. The four members board a train to head from the hometown of Liverpool to London to perform in front of a studio audience. Their manager, Norm (Norman Russington), and road manager, Shake (John Junkin), must do everything in their power to keep track of the young men whose energy and penchant for adventure know no limits. Paul’s grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell) can be considered the mischievous driving force, the “old mixer” as coined by Paul, that instigates many of the shenanigans that occur in the film.
The members disappear often, stressing out their managers and the television director of the London program, incessantly. Dancing at nightclubs and mingling with their contemporaries, the men demonstrate their connection to the youth subculture that they helped establish and develop. The main theme of the film is definitely adventure as evidenced by the band members exploring London separately and together. The main conflict of the film manifests itself in whether or not the band members will make it back in time to do their televised performance amidst their hijinks, with the most comical and problematic being Ringo’s momentary arrest and the other three members’ efforts to jailbreak him.
Each of the members have vibrant personalities that stand alone and do not outshine one another. All of the men are very light-hearted, good-humored, and extremely self-assured. The dialogue between all of the men is not contrived at all and flows seamlessly, with much of it featuring many slang terms of the British youth subculture. The fictionalized versions of the members are portrayed with a sense of humility that is refreshing to see, considering how extremely popular they were. Lester directs the men as being prisoners of their own fame and the recurring motifs of escape and exploration are fully emblematic of this vision. In the very beginning of the film, as they are on the train heading towards London, they play “If I Fell” leisurely whilst in the luggage area that looks similar to a cage as a few fans watch them. The placement of the members in this setting is a great metaphor and establishes great parallelism in that The Beatles are being filmed and fleshed out in a figurative cage, the documentary format, and the literal cage. All of the band members play extremely well off of one another and several aerial tracking shots of them running around with one another exudes the youthful nature and down-to-earth quality of the band members.
This film was incredibly influential in that its success paved the way for the successes of the countless band documentaries and sitcoms that followed: The Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter(1970) and The Monkee’s television series, The Monkees, being two of the most successful projects. The film firmly established The Beatles as icons. Though it is ostensibly an exploitation film, at its heart, it is an exploration of the four men behind the world’s most influential band. This effectively destroyed the enigma surrounding them and elucidated their appeal to the youth of the world.
A Hard Day’s Night was a critical and commercial success during its time and deservedly so, considering how entertaining and lively the film was and how groundbreaking some of the film techniques were. After 53 years, the film truly does hold up well, and its filming techniques, the most revered being the multi-angle filming of a live performance, has influenced British spy thrillers, sitcoms, and music videos. To truly understand and appreciate how much of an impact The Beatles’ had on the world during their prime and why they are still relevant in music today, viewing A Hard Day’s Night is a must.