Weekend Film Recommendation: A Hard Day’s Night

A Hard Day’s Night is pure joy with the Fab Four on the crest of unprecedented fame and success

The beloved film critic Roger Ebert maintained that what we now remember as the “the 1960s” may actually have started in 1964, as the magnificent sound of George Harrison’s new 12-string guitar opened this week’s film recommendation: A Hard Day’s Night.

At the time, it had every promise of being a forgettable flick: low budget, quickly made, unknown director and some trendy band that was probably going to be forgotten in a few years. But faster than you could say “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah” emerged movie magic that holds up very well a half century on.

There isn’t much plot (and why should there be?). The Beatles run from screaming fans, dance with admiring birds, make wisecracks and eventually arrive at a big concert, where they drive the on screen and movie theater audience into ecstasy. Along the way they play the title tune, “I wanna be your man”, “Can’t buy me love”, “This boy” and many other wonderful songs. Everything about this movie is as buoyant as the music; the Fab Four were naturals on screen and it’s impossible not to share in their fun.

Looking back, you might think “How hard could it have been to make a good movie with The Beatles?”. But remember that no one knew at the time what enduring, globe-spanning stars the Fab Four would become, and, that most movies starring pop music stars over the years have been shoddily-scripted, boringly-shot products designed to make a fast buck. Alun Owen could have been lazy and let The Beatles’ charm and popularity sell movie tickets, but instead he wrote a funny, clever, original screenplay that deservedly netted an Oscar nomination.

Meanwhile, Richard Lester and Gilbert Taylor may well have created the modern music video with this film. If you look at typical rock musicals in the 1950s (e.g., Elvis Presley’s films) there are many static set-ups on the musical numbers, almost as if you were watching a big Broadway number on stage in front of you. But the camera is everywhere in a Hard Day’s Night, including a number of shots from the Beatles’ viewpoint during the final concert, which works perfectly for a film that was trying to convey what their lives at the time were like from the inside. The resulting visual look is fresh, exciting and high-energy.

Put it all together and you have not just one of the best rock-and-roll movies ever made, but one of the Silver Screen’s best musicals of any sort.

p.s. This movie would make a fine, fun double feature with a prior RBC Recommendation: The Rutles.

p.s. Interested in a different sort of film? Check out this list of prior RBC recommendations.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

12 thoughts on “Weekend Film Recommendation: A Hard Day’s Night”

  1. Thanks for reminding me of the summer afternoon I (with two other 8-year-old beatlemaniac friends)stood in the longest queue I had ever seen, just to see this one.

  2. It was good to mention the Elvis movies. IMO, by way of comparison, Hard Day’s Night, was better than every Elvis movie ever made. I was never a musical fan and Elvis didn’t help. The Beatles, on the other hand, were naturals at making movie magic.

      1. I thought I was supposed to be getting a change of scenery, but so far, I’ve been in a train and a room, and a car and a room, and a room and a room.

  3. Saw it in a Dublin cinema when I was 12. Remember very little about it except that it was a fun film I enjoyed. Must re-watch.

  4. Meanwhile, Richard Lester and Gilbert Taylor may well have created the modern music video with this film. If you look at typical rock musicals in the 1950s (e.g., Elvis Presley’s films) there are many static set-ups on the musical numbers, almost as if you were watching a big Broadway number on stage in front of you.

    I think this is wrong, or rather, you are watching the wrong movies to try to find the antecedents of the music video.

    The big budget technicolor musical is the obvious progenitor of the music video. Probably the first one I have in mind is Victor Fleming’s “The Wizard of Oz”, from 1939. The songs and the camera movement are not static in that. But there are a whole bunch of good examples in the 1940’s and 1950’s, such as MGM’s “Show Boat” remake, “An American in Paris”, “Singing in the Rain”, and especially the two Rogers and Hammerstein classics, “Oklahoma!” and “Carousel”. THIS, filmed in 1955, has all the compositional aspects of modern music videos:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VEwVAV3VPw4

  5. One of my all-time favorites.

    Years ago there was a documentary about the making of “A Hard Day’s Night” called “You Can’t Do That.” I don’t think it’s available on DVD, but at one point I saw a copy floating around the Internet. If you can dig it up, or find it in a library, it’s well worth watching.

  6. Aw shucks! Looked for it on Netflix and didn’t find it. Had to settle for The Monkees’ “Head”. Not quite the same experience.

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