A Hard Day’s Night
A Hard Day’s Night is a 1964 British comedy film written by Alun Owen starring The Beatles—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr—during the height of Beatlemania. It was directed by Richard Lester and originally released by United Artists. The film was made in the style of a mock documentary, describing a couple of days in the lives of the group.
A Hard Day’s Night was successful both financially and critically; it was rated by Time magazine as one of the all-time great 100 films. British critic Leslie Halliwell described A Hard Day’s Night as a “comic fantasia with music; an enormous commercial success with the director trying every cinematic gag in the book” and awarded it a full four stars. A Hard Day’s Night is credited with having influenced 1960s spy films, The Monkees’ television show and pop music videos.
The A Hard Day’s Night screenplay was written by Alun Owen, who was chosen because the Beatles were familiar with his play No Trams to Lime Street, and he had shown an aptitude for Liverpudlian dialogue. McCartney commented, “Alun hung around with us and was careful to try and put words in our mouths that he might’ve heard us speak, so I thought he did a very good script.” Owen spent several days with the group, who told him their lives were like “a room and a car and a room and a car and a room and car”; the character of Paul’s grandfather refers to this in the dialogue. Owen wrote the script from the viewpoint that the Beatles had become prisoners of their own fame, their schedule of performances and studio work having become punishing. In fact their biggest problem is McCartney’s elderly, but “clean” grandfather, played by Wilfrid Brambell.
Halliwell encapsulates the plot as “Harassed by their manager and Paul’s grandpa, the Beatles embark from Liverpool by train for a London TV show.” Having escaped a horde of fans, once aboard the train and trying to relax, various interruptions begin to test their patience, prompting George to go to the goods van for some peace and quiet.
On arrival in London, they are driven to a hotel where they feel trapped. After a night out during which McCartney’s grandfather causes minor trouble at a casino, the group are taken to the theatre where their performance is to be filmed. The preparations are lengthy so Starr decides to spend some time alone reading a book. McCartney’s grandfather, a “villain, a real mixer,” convinces him that he should be outside experiencing life instead of reading books, so Starr goes off by himself. He tries to have a quiet drink in a pub, walks alongside a canal and at one point rides a bicycle along a railway station platform. Meanwhile, the rest of the band frantically (and unsuccessfully) attempts to find Starr. Finally, however, he returns and the concert goes ahead as planned.
The Beatles comment cheekily on their own fame: for instance, at one point a fan recognizes John Lennon; he demurs, saying his face isn’t quite right, with the fan eventually agreeing. When Starr is asked if he’s a Mod or a Rocker, he replies “Uh, no, I’m a mocker”. The frequent reference to McCartney’s’s grandfather as a “clean old man” contrasts with the Steptoe and Son stock description of Wilfrid Brambell’s character, Albert Steptoe, as a “dirty old man”.