My Criterion Collection: A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (1964)

My Criterion Collection: A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (1964)

Director: Richard Lester
Starring: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Wilfrid Brambell, Norman Rossington

The Fab Four are seen hopping on a train after running away from hoards of screaming fans. While John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr are playing themselves in the film, you immediately get the feeling that this is an exaggerated look into the life of the Beatles as they are getting ready for a performance. They allow themselves to show the goofier sides of their personalities. Where else would you see John taking a bubble bath playing with bath toys? From the first main scene upon the train, their sense of comedic timing is already apparent. The humor is further enhanced with the introduction of Paul’s grandfather (Wilford Brambell) who travels with them. He causes all sorts of trouble for the boys by goofing around at a casino table, passing out photos with the boys’ forged signatures, and convincing Ringo to go outside to take in nature instead of reading his book. Ringo’s disappearance causes all sorts of anxiety with the theater’s tech crew as it happens right before their final rehearsal. “All My Loving”, “If I Fell”, “Can’t Buy Me Love”, “I Should Have Known Better” are just some of the songs featured throughout the film.

A Hard Day’s Night marks The Beatles’ first full length movie. United Artists record company wanted to capitalize on Beatlemania and brought the idea of doing a movie to them. They wanted to release a soundtrack to accompany the film, so the Beatles had to write at least six new songs for the movie. George Harrison has mentioned they had been given offers for movie appearances before but were never interested until the right project came along. They knew this was the right one after meeting with director Richard Lester. They wanted to do a comedy and knew he was the right choice after his work on “The Goon Show”.

The film has that realistic documentary feel due to the nature of the story and how the film was conceived. Even though the Beatles play themselves, everyone else in the film are all actors. Alun Owen was brought on as the screenwriter and spent time with the boys to capture the right tone, Liverpool idioms, and ways of speech. Despite the scenes feeling like quick improv moments, all of it was scripted out that way with the dialogue consisting of short little bits and quips. There was hesitation when filming first started as they had never acted before. Irish actor Wilford Brambell was cast to have a seasoned actor play off them in many of the scenes. It became apparent early on that the Fab Four felt quite comfortable on camera. They each bring a charming, charasmatic, and natural energy to the screen. There was a common goal that they wanted each one of the guys to be showcased individually and thus you’ll notice that each Beatle has their scenes to shine outside of the group scenes. Their goal paid off as the film was a huge success and everyone got to know them as individuals instead of just seeing the group as a whole entity. Their movie went on to be nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Screenplay for Owen and Best Original Score for George Martin.

2014 marks the 50th Anniversary of the movie as it was released shortly after their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The movie is now available in a brand new three disc Blu-Ray/DVD edition thanks to The Criterion Collection. This is a must have for any Beatles fan. There are a wealth of special features that you can easily spend hours of your time diving into without even realizing it. There is a new 4K digital restoration approved by director Richard Lester with three different audio options. The picture transfer is so clear and crisp you can see the sweat glistening off of John’s face during the final concert scene. There are numerous behind the scenes documentaries. You Can’t Do That: The Making of “A Hard Day’s Night” from 1994 celebrates the films 30th anniversary and is narrated by Phil Collins and includes interviews with Lester, Owen, outtake scenes, and a musical number cut from the final edit. The 2002 documentary Things They Said Today features Lester, George Martin, and other filmmakers. There is a brand new interview for this Criterion Collection edition with author Mark Lewisohn conducted in February 2014 discussing the Beatles career prior to the film. We hear from the Beatles themselves in a 1964 audio interview discussing how the film came to be and writing the title track. Plus, we get the collectable booklet with an essay by critic Howard Hampton and excerpts from a 1970 interview with Richard Lester.

It’s easy to see why this film has a lasting legacy. There is a timeless feeling to it for Beatles fans of old and new. I consider myself a big fan of theirs, so this was a joyful fun time in every way. Even if you’ve heard these songs a hundred times before, they never get old. A Hard Day’s Night would also make the perfect starting point for any young moviegoer or musician who isn’t as familiar with the group. Not only do we get their classic music, but we get to see the silly sides of their personalities.

Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? A pure delight for fans of The Beatles.


You can find more films in the My Criterion Collection series HERE!

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