“A Hard Day’s Night” begins with the startling, crisp ring of a sustained Gsus4th chord struck from George Harrison’s brand new Rickenbacker 360 12-string guitar, only the second one ever made; the most famous chord in the history of pop music. An atomic bomb might as well have gone off. From that point on the world was divided into three groups: The Beatles; people who got the Beatles; and the older generation aging ever quicker with each frame of Richard Lester’s landmark vision. Andrew Sarris got off with perhaps the greatest piece of cinematic smack ever when he christened the movie “The Citizen Kane of Juke Box Musicals”. The opening title sequence is perhaps the greatest music video of all time, as a million insanely frantic girls and the rest of the world feverishly ran through the streets desperately trying to keep up with the Fab Four.
Not bad for a movie United Artists funded as a desperate lark intended only to cash in on a Beatles soundtrack before the lunatic gravy train of Beatlemania joined the hula hoop as yet another silly and discarded fad. The Beatles themselves had other ideas and found a willing accomplice in Richard Lester, who had previously directed Peter Sellers, a favorite of the group. Lester’s jump cutting camera work was so fresh and original that it spawned the Monkees’ entire career and no one seemed to mind.
The plot, a day in the life of the Beatles, probably took all of thirty seconds to come up with, and the tart script by Alun Owen was more than likely a fine bit of reporting cribbed from the group’s flowing charm and confidence. Wilfrid Brambell, Paul’s “other” grandfather, gives perhaps as good a synopsis as any when he adamantly whines, “I thought I was supposed to be getting a change of scenery and so far I’ve been in a train and a room, a car and a room, and a room and a room,” but the movie doesn’t go well for the older generation.
When a haughty businessman reminds the group, “I fought the war for your sort.” Ringo mockingly answers, “Bet you’re sorry you won!” The film is everything that needs to be said about being young, having fun and being in a Rock and Roll band, and this movie, as well as the Beatle’s American appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, spawned a million of them. It even manages to make sullen George Harrison entertaining, as he calmly alerts a self important television director that his shirts are “dead grotty” and his program’s host is a “drag, a well known drag”.
Just in case the Beatles aren’t enough, Brian Epstein is replaced by an English version of Abbott and Costello (one angry at the other for always being the taller of the two), there is a gleeful keystone cop chase scene, and enough visual and verbal puns to merit multiple viewings. John Lennon’s facial expressions and knowing glances alone make the picture a must. Will the boys find Ringo and make it to the big show?
Every note of music is a gem, and in the end there is ample evidence that John Lennon might just have been every bit as cool as his idol Elvis Presley. Supposedly Phil Collins is a member of the audience in the film’s concert finale, but that’s nothing to hold against the film. Anyone adept at translating the Gallagher brothers’ English scouse will have little trouble keeping up; everyone else is advised to pay attention because the language is as fast-paced as “His Girl Friday,” and no concessions are made for American ears. Everything about this movie is a smile.
[ Songs include: A Hard Day’s Night, I Should Have Known Better, If I Fell, She Loves You, Tell Me Why, And I Love Her, Can’t Buy Me Love, and I’m Happy Just to Dance With You. ]