Opening title sequence for A HARD DAY'S NIGHT

If you missed A Hard Day’s Night (Richard Lester, 1964) when it screened at the recent TCM Film Fest, you’ll get another shot tomorrow when it airs as part of an evening celebrating the British Invasion. A Hard Day’s Night marks the Fab Four‘s debut in front of the cameras for a feature film and is credited with breaking away from the previous template for musical pictures of a boy-meets-girl story interspersed with musical numbers. This is not to say our four boys don’t meet girls, as there are throngs of screaming women, many random encounters, and George Harrison would even meet his future wife, Pattie Boyd, on the shoot (she’s one of the women the Beatles run past in the train – and was also responsible for grooming his hair during the film shoot). But what really fuels the film is an anarchic energy inspired by The Goon Show radio program of the ’50s that also influenced the lads in Monty Python. To be more specific: one of the people talking into the microphone for the Goon Show was Peter Sellers, before he was a film star, and Sellers would later co-direct with Lester The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film (1960), which was an 11 minute short that the Beatles quite liked and which led to Lester being hired for A Hard Day’s Night (and a year later also Help!).

The camera crew and production team were assembled quickly by financiers at United Artists studio who didn’t think the Beatles would have staying power. As far as the money-people were concerned, these four mop heads might be a flash-in-the-pan and so they wanted to make the film in under a month and then have it rushed out the door to take advantage of whatever this Beatlemania craze was while it was still burning hot. John Lennon, talking to Richard Lester in 1963, had just gotten back from Sweden and was asked by the director how it was. John’s response made it into A Hard Day’s Night and would inform the first half  of the film: “It was a car, and a room, and a room, and a car, and a cheese sandwich.” Which is to say, life was a blur. The title itself was credited to a malapropism by Ringo Starr during an interview when he was clearly a bit confused as to whether it was day or night, his daze due to an all-night recording session.

Some of the studio financiers thought Lester was peddling “useless, amateurism” but, hey, if that’s what these four kids who are still in their early 20′s wanted, okay, why not? The results ended up being far from useless as critics applauded the film for its use of cinéma vérité and playful surrealism. Associate Producer Denis O’Dell was approached by the studio and initially didn’t want to get involved with “a pop picture” – but when his children found out their dad had a chance to work with the Beatles they convinced him to get behind it. (O’Dell would go on to work with Lester on nine more films.) Screenwriter Alun Owen shadowed the musicians to get a sense of their banter, and this helped shape archetypes (ie: Paul as “the cute one,” etc.). These archetypes would later prove to be quite enduring, no matter how often the Beatles tried to shake things up.

Given an original budget of 200,000 pounds, which at the time was 303,000 in U.S. dollars, proof that Beatlemania was not just a passing phase came with the box office grosses. A Hard Day’s Night snagged $12 million. The movie did more than cash in on the popularity of four rising stars, it added gas to a blaze that was about to get a lot brighter. Lester’s style allows the form to follow the content by creating a dynamic push-and-pull that shifts between cramped interiors and free open spaces while simultaneously accentuating the differences between youth and the stodgy authority figures that surround them. The film lets the Beatles turn on their charm while also letting the camera lovingly capture those famous haircuts in a variety of creative ways. It wasn’t just youth that was being peddled here, it was available youth. The four young musicians had to sign a contract clause for A Hard Day’s Night that prevented them from courting women during the shoot so as to not disappoint screaming fans and their respective fantasies. What actually happened behind-the-scenes must not have been too important (Harrison Boyd being a case in point), but what mattered here was that the perception of them being available be kept alive.

The filmmakers know they’re peddling youth, they have fun with it, and they also make fun of it – a self-awareness that can be witnessed in one particular scene where an ad executive tries to sell George Harrison on endorsing an idea by another trendsetting youth, only to be mocked by the Beatle who would later be known for spirituality and mysticism. It’s a meta-moment, and not much has changed when you think of the companies out there like Collab that are monetizing that hard-to-reach millennial demographic by hooking up companies like Coke with up-and-coming youngsters who make popular Vine videos. Actually, that’s not entirely true – there is one big change in how companies marketing themselves to the youth go about their business today, and it has to do with time. A Hard Day’s Night was meant, in part, to convey the blur and speed that comes with being a pop sensation. But life has only gotten faster, for everyone, famous or not, and one has to wonder if the teenagers of today, at least the ones who love the short-attention span theater of six-minute Vine videos, would have the patience for the 89-minute running time of A Hard Day’s Night.

Even if you miss A Hard Day’s Night on TCM this week, in the month to come there’s a good chance you’ll hear about this title more than once. That’s because everyone wants to get in on the 50th anniversary celebration of this film, and that includes The Criterion Collection, which is releasing a Blu-ray on June 24th, and Janus Films, who will be releasing the new digital restoration by Criterion in 4K resolution at various cities nationwide over the July 4th weekend. (The film’s original world-premiere took place on July 6th at the London Pavilion in 1964.) Both will have their advantages because the former will come with a slew of extras (including the aforementioned The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film), while the latter is sure to prove an eye-opening revelation for fans who can be assured that a big screen viewing of this new cleaned-up version from the original camera negative will afford you a chance to see quite clearly what all the fuss was about.

Fun on the train in A HARD DAY'S NIGHT

18 Responses A HARD DAY’S NIGHT
Posted By Doug : June 2, 2014 12:04 am

Pablo, a perfect post-thank you. Stunning to think that it has been 50 years since “A Hard Day’s Night”.
As I live 500 + miles from anywhere that might host a Janus sponsored viewing, I may get the Criterion Blu ray.
I knew that Goon show had influenced Monty Python, but didn’t know the Sellers/Lester connection.
The impact of the Beatles and their music changed the world, and “A Hard Day’s Night” helped document why. They were talented and the music was great, is still great, and will probably still be popular 100 years from now.

Posted By swac44 : June 2, 2014 12:25 pm

Great piece on a true phenomenon, a collision of music and film that turned out to be something timeless (John Boorman’s Having a Wild Weekend aka Catch Us If You Can with the Dave Clark Five might be the only other British invasion band film that comes close, I was surprised by how serious that film gets as it goes on).

Years ago I was surprised to learn that Richard Lester was in fact from Philadelphia, and wasn’t British at all, but yet his style fits so perfectly with British humour and music. Maybe being an outsider gave him a special appreciation for how different people like the Goons and the Beatles really were. It’s a shame his work with Sellers didn’t continue past The Running, Jumping & Standing Still Film (he directed various Goons in television before making that short), perhaps he could have been a useful influence on the notoriously difficult comic actor, the way Blake Edwards was. Hopefully the blu-ray version of TRJ&SSF will finally make it legible, I’ve watched it on VHS, laserdisc and DVD, and have never been able to figure out who’s doing what, the image has been so poor.

One small note: not all the Beatles were bachelors during the making of A Hard Day’s Night, John Lennon had already been married to his first wife Cynthia for roughly a year before AHDN went into production.

Posted By swac44 : June 2, 2014 12:35 pm

The Beatles would become quite friendly with the Goons over the years, it didn’t hurt that their producer George Martin also produced a number of records for both Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan. From what I gather, the Beatles original label Parlophone, which Martin managed, was essentially EMI’s “novelty” label, which released comedy records and recordings that didn’t fit in on one of EMI’s prestige imprints.

There are recordings of studio chatter between the Beatles and Sellers, probably from the Let It Be era, made when he happened to drop by for a visit, and Milligan’s writing was surely a major influence on the John Lennon’s books of poetry, In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works. Milligan also persuaded the Beatles to provide an as-yet-unreleased song for a charity album he was producing for the World Wildlife Fund, titled No One’s Gonna Change Our World, the title of which came from the Beatles song Across the Universe, which would later surface on the group’s final album, Let It Be.

Posted By Pablo Kjolseth : June 2, 2014 4:50 pm

There is another tenuous connection between Peter Sellers and A HARD DAY’S NIGHT insofar as DR STRANGELOVE was released that same year – and both films share the same Director of Photography, Gilbert Taylor.

I was having a rough time figuring out how to word that bit about the contract clause preventing the Beatles from courting women. But, as pointed out, to refer to them as bachelors during the shoot is factually wrong and now amended – thanks for the correction!

Here’s the question: why would the studio have them sign such a clause when John Lennon was already married? I think the answer lies in the absence of Pete Best, who was kicked out of the band, in part, because he didn’t conform to the desired image. In other words, the Beatles were being sold as a package. So, even though they weren’t technically all bachelors, the studio was trying to sweep Lennon’s marriage status under the rug so as to “keep hope alive” for all the groupies.

I posed the question to Scott Freiman, whose fantastic DECONSTRUCTING THE BEATLES presentations are not to be missed, and hope to hear back from him soon. Update to follow!

Posted By swac44 : June 2, 2014 5:13 pm

Lennon’s marriage to Cynthia (apparently due to her pregnancy with their son Julian) was definitely kept on the down-low, I’m sure she’s written and spoken at conventions at length about how the Beatles team tried to ensure she stayed out of the picture. Is there any chance that “bachelor’s clause” was also some sort of publicity stunt? It must have been a tricky business, keeping the Beatles at arm’s length from their fans, while still implying that they were “available”.

Posted By Scott Freiman : June 2, 2014 5:47 pm

Great post, Pablo. One really important point: there had been lots of so-called “rock and roll” films before AHDN. Rushed out by studios trying to capitalize on this teen rock and roll craze, which was sure to be short lived. They put together a silly story and threw in some songs. Think of “Girl Can’t Help It”, “Blackboard Jungle”, or any Elvis film. What was so extraordinary about AHDN is that it took music films in a new direction. The characters had depth and personality. The dialog was witty and the movie was funny. Each scene was shot with purpose. And the music was fantastic. No longer would a throw-away film be sufficient. You can trace all the great rock and roll films (and many others, as well) back to AHDN.

Posted By LD : June 2, 2014 8:41 pm

As a Beatlemaniac I saw AHDN upon its original release. Loved it then of course. I remember at the time critics even liked it and some compared the Fab Four to the Marx Brothers. Saw it again some time later as an adult and still enjoyed it. It is now on my “to buy” list. Thanks for the blast from the past.

Posted By Mike D : June 2, 2014 8:42 pm

George Harrison takes a tumble during the opening credits (right before that first screen shot I think) which had to have hurt!

Posted By DevlinCarnate : June 3, 2014 12:52 pm

favorite line: “how do you find America”? “turn left at Greenland”

Posted By swac44 : June 3, 2014 5:12 pm

I feel like I have to come to the defence of The Girl Can’t Help It and Blackboard Jungle, the first is one of my favourite ’50s comedies, directed by the great Frank Tashlin, with amazing performances by Eddie Cochrane and Little Richard, among others. Plus I think it truly respects the music it’s representing, while taking a few sharp jabs at the music industry with Edmond O’Brien’s “Rock Around the Rockpile” novelty number. The latter film is a fine topical drama which just happens to feature a Bill Haley number, bringing rock and roll to the big screen for the first time.

But for an example of a film that was cashing in, I watched the first Herman’s Hermits outing, Hold On this morning, and it’s exactly the sort of film you’re describing Scott. Silly and nonsensical, while the second HH title, Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter is a noticeable improvement, where the members of the band get to do a bit more than just hover in the background behind singer Peter “Herman” Noone, and is also set in the UK instead of an often back-projected U.S.

Posted By Scott Freiman : June 3, 2014 6:39 pm

In fairness, I love Girl Can’t Help It for the performances!

Posted By Doug : June 3, 2014 11:05 pm

Just a few years ago “Pirate Radio” captured this era quite well;
in the deleted scenes is a sort of ‘mini movie’ where the main cast sneak onto land for a night of revelry but also make a pilgrimage to the offices of Apple Records. They talk of how hearing the Beatles changed them, recalling where they were when they first heard “Love Me Do”-you could tell that Richard Curtis was expressing through his characters how the Beatles had impacted him. It’s a nifty little film with great performances, especially Philip Seymour Hoffman and Chris O’Dowd.

Posted By Blackbelt2 : June 4, 2014 12:17 am

Does anyone know when the British Invasion Block of films will be on again.., specifically Having a Wild Weekend?

Posted By swac44 : June 4, 2014 12:47 pm

I’ve seen Mrs. Brown and Wild Weekend on TCM before (and they’re part of the Warner Archive series), so I imagine they’ll turn up again within the next year or so. (Hold On was new to me, but once was plenty for that title.)

Posted By swac44 : June 4, 2014 12:48 pm

I didn’t love Pirate Radio as much as I thought I would, but I understand there are quite a few differences between the North American cut and the British theatrical version. I assume the longer version is available on disc at this point, I must give it a rewatch.

Posted By Stephen White : June 8, 2014 4:50 am

There is a bit of footage that has appeared in more than one Beatle documentary in which John is asked how his wife liked America, and he instinctively replies something like, “She thought it was great” before he catches himself and playfully looks right into the camera and says “Wait .. who? What?” or something like that. I think one or tow of the other Beatles also join in on the feigned ignorance bit. So, while John’s marriage wasn’t exactly an ironclad secret, his response indicates he had been coached to downplay it or avoid mentioning it entirely. Viewed from a distance of 50 years, it seems just horribly wrong to Cynthia and politically incorrect to the extreme. The scenario comes up in the brilliant Beatles-parody of the Simpsons in which Homer, as the married member of the B-Sharps is told by his manager: “How shall I put it … girls are going to want to have sex with you, and we want them to think that they can.” Homer: “Oh, well, I’m sure when I put it to Marge THAT way …”

Posted By Juana Maria : July 15, 2014 5:20 pm

My mom was/is a Beatles fan. She had a couple of their records back in the day, the 60′s . I first saw “Hard Day’s Night” when I borrowed it from the local library. Yes, my mom likes this film. She thinks they’re funny. I do too. And so talented.

Posted By Michael Travis : November 15, 2014 9:14 pm

TCM’s broadcast of the restored (and re-mixed) Hard Day’s Night compressed the music to a degree that I have never suffered before.
Compression and limiting have their proper place in film production and broadcast, however, the heavy-handed use of extreme compression as applied to Hard Day’s Night left the viewers with a mere cipher of the original soundtrack.


Michael Travis
Sound Editor

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r *

As of November 1, 2017 FilmStruck’s blog, StreamLine, has moved to Tumblr.

Please visit us there!


 Streamline is the official blog of FilmStruck, a new subscription service that offers film aficionados a comprehensive library of films including an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign and cult films.