05th Jul2014

‘A Hard Days Night: 50th Anniversary’ Review

by Paul Metcalf

Stars: Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Wilfrid Brambell | Written by Alun Owen | Directed by Richard Lester

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It’s been fifty years since United Artists wanted a Beatles movie to make money off its soundtrack, but what a decision it was.  A Hard Day’s Night is a film that focused on the life of the Beatles but in turn became one of the best comedies to come out of the UK.  With a new 4k restoration in cinemas this weekend and a DVD/Blu-ray release coming July 21st, is the movie showing its age or does it still stand up as a comedy?

A Hard Day’s Night looks to show what a day in the life of the Beatles is like.  Travelling down from Liverpool to London to perform a concert with Paul’s grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell) tagging along for the ride chaos soon ensues.  Causing division within the group it’s not long before the grandfather creates division with Ringo who goes missing, with the concert ready to begin the rest of the Beatles have to find Ringo before it’s too late.

You do get the feeling that when there were plans for a film to be made featuring the Beatles the easiest thing to do would be to make a simple movie and fill it with their music.  If they could be put the group into the background that would also be a plus for the fans.  What we get instead is a comedy where the group play off each other and actually manage to be funny, with Brambell a more seasoned actor keeping events grounded, though his ability to be the catalyst for the craziness can’t be ignored.  The most surprising thing to notice though is the quality of acting you get from the Beatles themselves.  Never being serious the comedy they perform has a natural feel to it that borders on improvisation, but from the documentaries you learn that most of this came from John Lennon.  Alun Owen as writer has an understanding of the group and how they work together to create the script for them to work by.  With the well scripted comedy and the good planning the film works to the groups strengths.

One thing we are always told about the Beatles is how their rise to success came at a time of not only a change in music, but also society and this is something that is a big focus in the movie.  The group are often looked down on by “the establishment” whether it’s the police who chase them or the general public who look down their noses at the “scousers” who have no decorum.  As working class they are expected to know their place, to do as they are told and to follow the rules and this is not something the Beatles would do.  What they actually do is the exact opposite, they are the radical element who are wild and do what they want.  Many scenes are used to emphasise that they are free spirits in a world that expect conformity and obedience, it has a radical and refreshing feel to a society that feels too controlled and stifled.

A Hard Day’s Night was obviously a film that was aimed at the fans, it even starred them to get authentic screaming audiences.  The music is there for them, the Beatles do everything the fans want to see, but after all the expected elements are in place the comedy is added in which strengthens the movie itself.  I found it surprising just how subversive the comedy feels at times and how risky it sometimes became.  One of the first on-screen gags is John Lennon sniffing a coke bottle, which is an obvious reference to drugs use.  This isn’t something really pointed out by the movie, it’s more a background element but it is there to be seen.  The surreal nature of the jokes pull the movie away from just being a “Beatles” event film to being an actual funny comedy that actually still stands up to this day.

The Blu-ray/DVD release (out later this month) will include a commentary track for the film, a making of documentary (over an hour in length) and other documentaries about the film.  For fans of the film and film history these extras add more to the film and are a nice look back to how important the movie was in terms of not only the Beatles but the UK film industry itself.

Watching the 50th Anniversary Restoration of A Hard Day’s Night the first thing to notice (after the quality of the restoration) is just how well the film still stands up and doesn’t feel aged.  The surprising acting ability of the Beatles is a nice bonus and Wilfred Brambell’s mischievous grandfather character is a nice touch for the group to work off so it’s not too centred on just them.  The movie is not only a reminder of the charisma and chemistry the Beatles had as a group but also just how good A Hard Day’s Night was as a movie in its own right.

Still genuinely funny and a nice celebration of the band itself, A Hard Day’s Night is a must see in cinemas and must buy when released on DVD/Blu-ray.

***** 5/5

Review originally posted on PissedOffGeek
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