Growing up in the Bronx, I watched late-night movies in my elementary school
days, but only on weekends, and even then only when my very favorite films were
on TV. In those days, the only movies I enjoyed most aired so late at night (or
so early in the morning, depending on your viewpoint) were The Beatles’ first
(and best) two films, HELP!
A Hard Day’s Night
(1964). I mention them in backwards chronological order
because that was how our WABC affiliate usually showed them. Maybe WABC-TV
figured that HELP!
would draw better ratings, being the wackier and more
colorful of the two films literally! My fellow late-1960s baby boomers will
recall that A Hard Day’s Night
was filmed in glorious Black and White), making
sure more insomniac Beatles fans would stay up through the …Night
for the entire
double-feature. My sister Cara and I couldn’t be more different, but our love of
The Beatles was one of the few things we had in common. We knew “Beatles” was
the name of a band long before we knew A “beetle” was the name of an insect. But
Grandma Josie would sleep over and sneak in bags of cookies and candy (the
fruit-flavored marshmallows were my favorite) for us to munch while we watched
the movies on TV, late-night commercials and all. Mom and Dad usually came home
by the time A Hard Day’s Night
started, and they’d insist that it was long past
my bedtime, even for a weekend night. This is why I never saw the whole movie
from start to finish until I was in my teens, but it was worth the wait, quickly
becoming one of my all-time favorite movies!
A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (1964)
According to TCM’s Roger Fristoe, A Hard Day’s Night
was a smash (and no
wonder!), a film that had personality as well as singing, was a crowd-pleaser
which also had the good fortune to have four cheeky yet endearing young stars:
John Lennon, the mischievous smart-aleck; the likable Paul McCartney, the
boyish heartthrob; the quiet yet wry-humored George Harrison, a nice young
fella whose laid-back comments steal the show in his quiet way; and loveable
nebbish Ringo Starr (born Richard Starkey). It didn’t hurt that Director Richard
Lester made it for a nimble budget of $500,000 budget! They’re the Beatles,
they’re each likable, smart, and witty, literally making beautiful music
together – what’s not to love, as well as talented and hot! Screenwriter Alun Owen got an Oscar nomination for for his Screenplay and its
cheeky, witty dialogue (though My Fair Lady
was the winner that year.)
The charm of The Fab Four certainly got them plenty of got mileage from their fame, and even from other new stars in their wake ; hey, the
newbies had to eat, too! But while John, Paul, George and Ringo had plenty of
star power and wit, it sure didn’t hurt to have a delightful supporting cast,
|"So far, I've seen a car and a room, and a TRAIN and a room, |
and a ROOM and a room!"
as Paul's (other) grandfather was ostensibly the
film's star, at the time the star of Steptoe and Son
, Britain's hottest
sitcom, which would come to America years later, with a minor casting change, as
Sanford and Son
. The running joke about Paul's grandfather being
so "clean" was a play off S&S' catchphrase of the elder Mr. Steptoe being a
is a hoot as the frustrated TV director desperately
trying to rein in the chaos of the loveable lads - he'd have better luck
lassoing smoke. He swings between boisterous demands for obedience, offers to
resign, or fears that if it doesn't go perfectly, he'll end up directing
something useless like The Epilogue
, (the BBC's traditional end of the
broadcast day), or worse, News in Welsh.
(Chitty Bang Bang-Bang)
as a daft fan who John has to convince
he's not really him. Eventually she walks away convinced "You don't look like him all
like him at all.." Lennon ad-libs "She looks more like him than I do."
and John Junkin
as the band's frenzied
manager Norm and his kindly but "always taller than me" assistant Shake.
The structure of the film is simple, more of a simple skeleton to hang
dialogue and wild vignettes on. The Beatles glide merrily though the landscape,
a mix of equal parts Marx Brothers, Bugs Bunny, and the Mynah Bird from the Chuck
Jones "Inki" cartoons, sowing disarray in their wake. They are matched
only by Paul's Grandfather, sent along to distract him from a broken heart, but
spends his time setting various people against each other and enjoying the
The mayhem starts fast, with The Boys being chased through town
(in a sequence that's STILL
being copied and "homaged" to this day), ending up
on the train to London where the Fab Four (I'm gonna run out of names for these
guys any time time now, you know) play merry hell with a stiff-necked
Middle-Class City-worker (played by Richard Vernon, who played the man from the
treasury in Goldfinger,
and years later, Slartibartfast in the TV version of
The Hitchhikers' Guide To the Galaxy
In town they make their way to the hotel and immediately begin straining at
the leash their manager keeps them on. When Paul's grandpa sneaks out to take
advantage of Ringo's invitation to a gaming club, the quartet race off to "save"
him, only to be retrieved quickly by manager Norm. A whirlwind press conference
offers some of the most memorable questions and answers ever, quite an accurate
reflection of their real press conferences. In addition to Paul answering every
unheard question with "no we're just good friends" there's quoteables like
: Tell me, how did you find America?
: Turn left at Greenland.
: Do you think those haircuts have come to stay?
: Well, this one has, it's stuck on good and proper now (tugs at
: What would you call that hairstyle?
: (deadpan) Arthur.
(That's likely the second tip of the hat to mad magazine in the film - Shake is
reading the paperback Son of MAD
earlier in the movie, and "Arthur" was
the name is am avocado plant that popped up inexplicably in the background of
many of the proceedings in the magazine.)
|"I now declare this bridge open"|
Soon they're herded into a TV studio for a variety show program that evening.
All they need do is sit about for a bit between rehearsal and broadcast. Simple.
And the White Star Line expected the Titanic to have an uneventful maiden
voyage. It's at this point the film really opens up - each of the
boys get their own chances to shine in what are practically blackout sketches.
George spends a few minutes scuttling the plans of a marketing whiz (Kenneth
Haigh) who he tells that his shirt designs are "dead grotty" and their
teen spokewoman Susan is: " A well-known drag"
Ringo "goes parading before it's too late" at Grandpa's urging, and delivers
a sad sack mini-performance that would rival Jackie Gleason. Though it's reported that his dour and pained expression wasn't acting - he was nursing a massive hangover from a hard day's night of drinking the night before! Maybe that's why Ringo felt pick-on, and not sly Grandfather getting "notions" -- but it's still great fun, with the finale with the lads getting our lads scramlbling all over London!
|Shake never learned to shave with a razor, coming from|
"a long line of electricians"
And in between the whole thing are the musical sequences that got director
Richard Lester named on of the spiritual fathers of MTV (to which he replied
that he wanted a paternity test).
As befits the biggest name of the film, Brambell gets the most "plot" of the
film as "Lord" John Mccartney. He's responsible for inspiring Ringo to go
walkabout, and after collecting all the boys' signatures, forges himself a stack
of autographed photos and gets in dutch with the peelers, ending up on the
booking bench next to young Mr. Starkey. He's the closest the film has to an
antagonist - indeed, Paul refers to him as a "villain" right near the beginning. Once the boys are collected up again (just in time) for the show, the film
turns into a mini-concert as they perform before a teeming throng of British
youth, which allegedly includes a very young Phil "No Jacket Required" Collins.
It's sort of a thank you to the viewers for sitting through all the narrative,
which hopefully by the end they ended up enjoying. I certainly did.
The Beatles were dragged back before the cameras only a year later for their second film. A bigger budget, more locations, more stars, but the same director, Richard Lester. Lester had experience capturing chaos in a film can - he did The Running Jumping Standing Still Film
, starring The Goons (Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Spike Milligan), who were greatly revered by the Liverpudlian Lads.
Now filming in color, and offering a bit more defined plot, the film still offered more than enough room for wackiness and Beatleific behavior.
Originally titled "Eight Arms to Hold You", a title nobody really cared for,
but changed so late in the production process that the first single, featuring
Ticket to Ride
and Yes It Is
, says that it's from the upcoming film The film begins in a heathen temple in some heathen country, where a human
sacrifice is being offered to Kaili, a non-existent but real-sounding eastern
diety, the extra vowel likely added to avoid insult to any remaining
. The proceedings are halted as the less-than-willing subject
is not wearing the sacrificial ring - she secretly mailed to a pop-star in
Britain with a predilection for rings, named...? Anyone?
Now, let's not always see the same hands...
Yes, Ringo ends up with the McGuffin stuck on his finger, and gets chased
throughout the film by High Priest Clang played by Leo McKern
, Rumpole of the Bailey
) and his bevy of assassins, headed
(or perhaps hindered) by Ahme, played by Eleanor Bron
Ringo tries all sort of things to get the ring off, eventually entering the
grasping hands of Professor Foot (the returning Victor Spinetti
) and his
hapless assistant Algernon Roy Kinnear
(Williy Wonka and the Chocolate
). Foot sees the seemingly indestructible ring as a means to...dare I
say it...rule the world - perhaps he was thinking of a certain other Ring.
|This was Eleanor Bron's first film - she'd go on to be|
one of Britain's grand dames of comedy
The Beatles have a cartoony disconnect from reality in the film. It
starts in their domicile, which from the outside seems to be four contiguous
flats in a suburban street of row homes, but from within it's revealed to be on
monstrous single room made up of the interiors of the Fab Four, an architectural
miracle that we of Team Bartilucci would love to duplicate as soon as that lottery money starts
rolling in. We see a lot more exaggerated physical comedy situations in
this film, from the overclocked hand dryer in the men's room to the floor being
sawed through under Ringo's drum set as the heathens attempt to initially
retrieve the ring, and as the sun sets, attempt to sacrifice the new wearer, AKA
The Famous Ringo. Paul is shrunk to the size of a stick of gum in a rather
well-done bit of scenery, and Professor Foot uses all sorts of mad contraptions.
It's a far more cinematic film than the first one, which maintains a rather
grounded state, if rather off-level.
As with the first film, the boys have unique and individual personalities, a
practice applied to almost all pop bands in the 60's onward. Paul is (of
course) the dashing lady-killer, George the quiet one, though able to deliver
the occasional stinging barb, John the inscrutable trickster god, and Ringo the
hapless boob. Indeed, it's Ringo's cowardice that causes the ring to
"cling to your finger like the hunger of a child"
Quite a few more stars of British comedy make a showing in the film. In
addition to the aforementioned, we see Patrick Cargill (Father Dear Father
and another Number Two on The Prisoner
) as the Superintendent of Police
and a master of mimicry, and Alfie Bass (The Lavender Hill Mob
) as the doorman of an Indian restaurant (thank god for British
The film jumps about from the Alps to the Bahamas, for little reason other
than the lads had never been there and asked for scenes there so they could get
a vacation in. While in the Alps, the mentioned they'd never been skiing -
Richard Lester pressed skis and poles into their hands, telling them to "find a
hill and practice". He filmed the results, which became much of the meat
of the Ticket to Ride sequence.
|In a gag worthy of The Goons, Clang packs up the entire temple |
in crates and ships it to the Bahamas, cause
The Beatles wanted a holiday.
The film is also rife with spy jokes - United Artists was also releasing the
Bond films, so there's tons of gags in the film like Clang's van dropping
tacks, Bhuta carrying a sword umbrella, and tossing his turban Oddjob-style.
The score offers a few Bond-ish stings in there, as well as wittily disguised
covers of past Beatles songs. the all-sitar version of A Hard Day's Night
is hilarious, especially the first time you realize what it is.