The Beatles certainly turned the world of music on its ear, but they revolutionized movies, too.
The “Fab Four” were getting a hold on the international market for their songs when United Artists agreed to handle their 1964 film “A Hard Day’s Night,” which Turner Classic Movies shows Thursday, July 2. The picture was conceived as a long commercial for the soundtrack album, but it emerged as much, much more, thanks to the stars’ trademark cheekiness and the energetic and inventive directing of Richard Lester.
Up to that time, movies that showcased pop music usually were a matter of having the artists simply stand and sing their songs, often backed by a full band that was nowhere to be seen on the screen. “A Hard Day’s Night” presented the Beatles romping all over London, often with frenzied fans in close pursuit, and also made a point of frequently showing the lads playing their guitars (or in Ringo Starr’s case, his drums) while performing their tunes.
The film also is notable for having Starr, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison essentially play themselves … something that hadn’t been done often with such other musically inclined movie stars of the era as Pat Boone and Connie Francis. The fun that the Beatles have with the conceit is evident early in “A Hard Day’s Night,” during a train trip that finds them introducing Paul’s “very clean” grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell) and gleefully antagonizing a stuffy compartment-mate (Richard Vernon).
The freeform style of “A Hard Day’s Night” is what makes it such a joy. Other rock groups would try to jump on the movie bandwagon soon after, and even the Beatles themselves hit some hurdles trying to duplicate the formula with “Help!” (with Lester as director again), but “A Hard Day’s Night’s” relatively loose structure set the pace and remains a giant chunk of its magic.
A couple of brief appearances have become legendary over the years since “ A Hard Day’s Night” initially was released. Pattie Boyd, who plays a student thrilled to encounter the Beatles on the train, would marry George Harrison a couple of years afterward (and Eric Clapton later); and among the studio audience members watching the Beatles stage a TV performance toward the end of the movie is rock-star-to-be Phil Collins.
And of course, there are the songs … literally hit after hit, including not only the title tune (obviously) but “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “If I Fell,” “All My Loving,” “I Should Have Known Better,” “Tell Me Why,” “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You” and “She Loves You.” (Yeah, yeah, yeah, indeed.)
“A Hard Day’s Night” continues to offer countless reasons still to be deemed fresh 55-plus years later, and that fact is likely to hold up for generations to come.