Hard Day’s Night, A (1964): Richard Lester’s Seminal Beatles Comedy

Richard Lester’s British musical comedy, starring the Beatles—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr—was released, in 1964, during the height of Beatlemania.   As a result, it became a commercially successful hit, which captured not only the band but also the surrounding cultural contexts of Liverpool and swinging London.

A revolutionary film in style and form, it marked a new beginning for the genre, which until then was defined and best known by MGM musicals.  It is interesting to note that in the same year, “My Fair Lady,” arguably one of Hollywood’s last classic musicals, won the Best Picture Oscar.

This film, along with Lester’s companion piece, “Help,” are credited for launching a new musical movie style, the mockumentary. The film is credited with having influenced 1960s spy films, The Monkees’ TV show and pop music videos.

Essentially and deliberately plotless, “A Hard day’s Night” depicts several days in the personal and professional lives of the wildly popular group. The title derives from Ringo Starr’s interview with disc jockey Dave Hull, in which he says: “We went to do a job, and we’d worked all day and we happened to work all night. I came up still thinking it was day I suppose, and I said, ‘It’s been a hard day,’ and I looked around and saw it was dark so I said, ‘night!’ So we came to ‘A Hard Day’s Night.'”

The screenplay is written by Alun Owen, author of the play “No Trams to Lime Street.”  Having spent several days with the Beatles, Owen penned the scenario from the group’s POV, trying to convey what’s like to be famous.  The anecdotal picture is replete with witty lines of dialogue and inventive black-and-white imagery.

Harassed by their manager and Paul’s grandfather, and escaping their demanding fans, the Beatles embark from Liverpool by train for a London TV show.”   Aboard the train, while trying to relax, various interruptions begin to test their patience, prompting George to go to the goods van for some peace and quiet.

In London, they are taken to a hotel where they feel trapped and restricted. After a night out during which McCartney’s grandfather causes trouble at a casino, they go to the theatre where their performance is to be shot.  As the preparations are long and boring, Ringo begins reading a book. McCartney’s grandfather convinces him that he should be outside experiencing life instead of reading books.

Going out, Starr visits a pub, walks alongside a canal, rides a bicycle along a railway station. Meanwhile, the rest of the band frantically (and unsuccessfully) attempts to find him.

No description of the plot, which is deliberately slender, does justice to the pleasures, textual, visual and musical, of experiencing the movie as a movie.

“A Hard Day’s Night” was one of the top ten grossing films of 1964.

Running time: 85 Minutes