A Hard Day's Night
review by Joe Barlow, 1 December 2000

Interviewer: "Do you often see your father?"

Paul: "No, actually, we're just good friends."

By the time Paul McCartney utters this famous response to a particularly banal interviewer during one of the many press conferences contained in A Hard Day's Night, we can understand his frustration. We've just watched him -- and the other three Beatles -- suffer through a mind-numbingly tedious barrage of questions from an insufferable pack of journalists. It's an understated response from McCartney, indicative of a young man who's bored with the incredible monotony of being a member of the world's biggest band. And for heaven's sake, why shouldn't he be? Just look at the day he's had:

First, he and his companions were forced to share a train compartment with a stuffy, belligerent passenger who could have served as the blueprint for Are You Being Served?'s gruff Captain Peacock. Next, he's had all of his leisure activities curtailed by an overprotective manager (Norman Rossington), who seems to think that the Beatles' idea of fun is sitting in their motel room, answering the thousands of fan letters they receive every hour. ("I want this lot answered tonight," their clueless manager informs the group, gesturing to a staggeringly large pile of correspondence.) The final indignity, however, is the fact that Paul is stuck "babysitting" his crotchety grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell), a cantankerous troublemaker who'd make Dennis the Menace look like a choirboy.

Nor are the other Beatles faring well. Lead guitarist George Harrison finds himself forced to provide commentary on teenage fashion for a megalomaniac designer; overly sensitive drummer Ringo Starr walks out on his bandmates after they inadvertently snub him; and rhythm guitarist John Lennon finds himself unable to get all the way through a simple bath without being disturbed, with hilarious consequences.

Richard Lester's A Hard Day's Night was intended to be nothing more than an (exaggerated) day in the life of what was then the world's biggest rock band. It has little in the way of plot or storyline; there are no major conflicts to be resolved, no central villain to be defeated (as in the cute but undeniably inferior sequel, Help!), and no real sense of drama. Thank goodness, then, that it wasn't supposed to have any of these things. As charming as it may be, A Hard Day's Night was created to be a quick, disposable rock-and-roll flick, a harmless piece of fluff that United Artists could rush into theaters to capitalize on the astonishing popularity of a band most critics (and studio executives) thought would be gone in a few months.

No one knew, certainly, that A Hard Day's Night would go on to become the Citizen Kane of rock and roll films, single-handedly inventing the music video and, by reason of its success, eventually leading to the creation of the popular Monkees television series. Nonetheless, the appeal of the movie is unmistakable, even to a generation that grew up after the Liverpool mop-tops went their separate ways. There's a feeling of warmth that permeates every frame, and, thirty-six years after its initial theatrical release, A Hard Day's Night has not aged in any discernable way. Like the music featured on the soundtrack, the film remains timeless -- a snapshot of a simpler era, when rock and roll existed for no other reason than to be danced to.

To what does the film owe its spectacular success? The wittiness of Alun Owen's script and the catchiness of the songs certainly didn't hurt. But the single most important factor, the one without which the movie would never have gotten off the ground, is the considerable natural charisma of the Beatles themselves. All four of the band members are clearly having a good time, rattling off their dialogue with such mechanical precision that the fact that they aren't professional actors barely has time to register. You can't teach the kind of screen presence seen here. Lennon and Starr are particularly well-suited to the task, bringing a certain brash confidence to their portrayals of themselves (though Starr has gone on record to say that he barely remembers making the film, due to the amount of time he spent hung-over during the shoot). And McCartney shines in his interactions with Brambell, his cinematic grandfather, whose excellent personal hygiene is the film's most entertaining running gag.

A Hard Day's Night's mischievous sense of humor is another point in its favor. Here the Beatles emerge as fun-loving young men, full of cheeky irreverence. Notice, however, that they're never actually rude to anyone, preferring to get their revenge on the world's buffoons with hilarious asides to each other. It's contagious fun; with their cinematic actions, the Beatles bring out the rascal in all of us, and that's a precious gift indeed for those of us tired of stress and responsibility. A Hard Day's Night is the most fun you're likely to have in a movie theater this year, and its theatrical re-release should not be missed by anyone who loves to smile, laugh, and tap their foot to some of the greatest pop tunes ever recorded.

And with a love like that, you know you should be glad.

Directed by:
Richard Lester

Starring:
John Lennon
Paul McCartney
George Harrison
Ringo Starr
Wilfrid Brambell
Norman Rossington
John Junkin

Written by:
Alun Owen

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