Review: A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

A Hard Day's Night 2.pngAre you a mod or a rocker? ~ reporter

Um, no, I’m a mocker ~ Ringo

As a 4 or 5-year-old, I didn’t know who the Marx Brothers were and no one had told me yet about Cinema Verite and what that meant. But I loved the Beatles. Also, I didn’t find out until years later that Richard Lester was an American director who caught the eyes of the Fab Four and predicted the MTV age with its frenetic editing style. But if you actually watch A Hard Days Night with the eyes of an unabashed fan — like I was as a boy — none of that matters. So let’s leave that on the drawing room floor and look at what makes this film pop with vitality all these years later.

Any conversation must begin with the music. The film bursts onto the screen with the iconic riff of A Hard Day’s Night as the Beatles scramble down a street corner fleeing frantically from a screaming mob of fans. It perfectly encapsulates this rash of Beatlemania that was exploding onto the world stage and making its way across the pond.

And what the film does so well is create this fun aura around the four lads from Liverpool. There silly, fun, a bit cheeky too but there’s something so endearing about them still. It struck me this time around that these are four men are hardly over 20 years of age and yet they had fame and stardom thrust upon them. And they are superstars but they don’t act quite like superstars.

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The filming style and handheld camera work lend themselves not only to Lester’s frantic style but there’s also an indication that this is a day in the life type of musical comedy (no pun intended). It’s the perfect combination of quotable one-liners and zingers paired with a certain British humor (I now declare this bridge open!) and some of the early classics from the Beatles canon (Can’t Buy Me Love, She Loves You, etc).

Paul’s Grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell) is very clean but that’s only a veneer for a searing personality that looks to manipulate others and stir up trouble. On Paul’s own account he’s a real mixer.  Norm is their road manager and general killjoy while Shake is his gangly hapless sidekick good for a few laughs of his own.  If you want a “plot” in the conventional sense you probably won’t get it but it’s enough to watch the boys run out on their obligations by sneaking off to dance parties or abandoned fields to do their own renditions of Monty Pythons silly Olympics.

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We watch them in their idle moments as John messes around in the tub and George exhibits his shaving prowess on Shake’s mirror image.In another moment George takes a wrong turn and finds himself in some new age advertising agency where he unwittingly tears their campaign to shreds by calling their merchandise “grotty.” Meanwhile, the boys are herded from press junkets to tapings, from makeup to answering fan mail (a train and a room and a car and a room and a room and a room). That’s about their life at this stage.

It’s odd to think that the name The Beatles is never spoken in the film. It just is. It’s part of the world consciousness. It brings to mind a chance encounter John has with a woman who while she doesn’t utter his name notes his striking resemblance to one of the boys. In the end, she’s mistaken and he walks away muttering that she looks more like “him” than I do. So A Hard Days Night is a film that while boasting great music and wonderful comic mayhem still is a slight commentary on the Beatles stardom.

They have become beholden to their rigid tour schedule. Prisoners in a sense. But they still find time for personal expression and a bit of playful rebellion despite those very restraints. Of course, the backbone of this comic-laden rock musical is the pinnacle of their artistic expression — their music. By now all these songs are like old friends to me that it hardly seems necessary to list them off one by one. You just have to hear them.

In the final moments before their climactic show, Grandad stirs up Ringo to go out and live a little and so the boys must track him down before time runs out. What follows is an inane ruckus involving the majority of the local bobby population. But all four make it back and put on a lively showing for their adolescent admirers screaming their heads off the entire set.

As quick as they arrived they get whisked off by a helicopter to their next destination ready to rock another day. I’m not sure if this is based on the film or my own wishful dreaming, but I like to think that they’re heading across the ocean blue as the flagship of the British Invasion. When you watch this film it all comes into clearer focus what all the hoopla was about. They had a genuine charisma, a certain presence, and their music speaks for itself after all these years. Still sincere, catchy, and enduring even in its pure simplicity. Billions of screaming girls can’t all be wrong.

5/5 Stars

The Three Musketeers (1973)

threemusk6In the beginning, this Dumas adaptation was to be the next zany live-action vehicle for the Beatles following the success of A Hard Day’s Night and Help. In fact, they even were ready to work with the same director. Well, Richard Lester stayed and the Beatles were disbanded for several years before this film even got going. In this incarnation, it was set to be a three-hour star-studded epic. Instead, it was thought better of, and this became the first installment with a second film coming out a year later.

Thus, The Three Musketeers has impressive star power, but the direction of Lester also supplies action with a constant barrage of gags for good measure. To top it off the film actually does follow the general story arc of the novel, but invigorates it was bits and pieces of humor that lighten up the tone. So perhaps it’s a light and fluffy piece of entertainment, but it’s still easy to enjoy what Lester’s been able to do here. It’s a great deal of fun.

threemusk4Our audacious d’Artagnon is a strapping Michael York, who has picked up plenty of swashbuckling skills from his father. So he heads out on his own to seek out adventure and uphold his family honor. In a matter of minutes he already a succession of duels lined up, and of course who are they with? The Three Musketeers: Athos (Oliver Reed), Porthos (Frank Finlay), and Aramis (Richard Chamberlain). He sides with his new comrades against the corrupt Cardinal Richelieu (Charlton Heston), and attempt to help the Queen (Geraldine Chaplin) get out of a tight jam.

What follows is a rambunctious array of treachery, romance, and royalty that involves Anne’s lover the Duke of Buckingham, a sly chambermaid (Faye Dunaway), the King, and of course the Cardinal. Peace stands in the balance not to mention the Queen’s self-respect, and so d’Artagnon and the boys do the honorable thing and bail her out. I said before that this film has it’s fair share of sword fights which are fun in themselves, but the laughs really accent the story nicely.

threemusk5The plot is there and we can appreciate the work of Alexandre Dumas, but it is not necessarily the focal point. Charlton Heston gives a seemingly uncharacteristic turn as Cardinal Richelieu, the corrupted man of the cloth, who cares more about politics and social unrest than he does about his faith. He’s no Moses or Ben-Hur for that matter. Furthermore, we are treated to a little tooth and nail type action courtesy of Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway. It turns out to be yet another rewarding scene because these two ladies were two of the defining icons of the 1970s, and here we get to see them face off.

I’m already revving up for part two because I wouldn’t mind returning to these characters. There’s a lot of good old-fashioned fun to be had here.

3.5/5 Stars

A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

5b3a7-a_hard_days_night_movieposterA Hard Day’s Night directed by Richard Lester and starring the Beatles, showcases the eponymous album and plays out rather like a documentary more than a full-fledged movie. 

The opening sequence has the Fab Four running frantically away from a mob of fans as they try to get to their train without being carried off. On the train we get a bit more acquainted in a day in the life of the Liverpool Lads. Paul’s clean but crafty grandfather has come along for a change of pace and the boys try to pick up girls, while their manager attempts to keep them in line. They get to their destination, but would rather dance, talk with girls, and frolic in an open field rather than answer fan mail and attend a press conference. They find themselves in trouble a number of times in between rehearsals for their show. It might be Paul’s grandfather getting in trouble at a casino, George taking a wrong turn, or John being cheeky and childish. Then, thanks to Paul’s grandfather they lose Ringo when he decides to get out and live a little! Time is running out and so they try to run him down with the police hot on their trail. They make it to their performance in time and Beatlemania takes over as they perform complete with swooning girls and deafening noise. The Beatles are a success and then they quickly head off in a helicopter, stopping one of Grandad’s schemes in the process. 

We can only assume they were heading to American and as we all know the rest was history. I read an interview with Bob Dylan once and he said the true 1960s did not really start until about 1965. With Marx Brother antics and their challenging of authority you could say that the Beatles led this change. They may have looked like four clean cut boys, but their music, hairstyle, and nonconformist demeanor, at times, reflected a new generation. If you like the Beatles’ music this film is for you, and it also gives an interesting representation of 1960s London.
 
4.5/5 Stars