When the Beatles began filming A Hard Day’s Night on March 2nd, 1964 they had just returned from their first tour of America and ‘Beatlemania’ had well and truly gripped the world. An audience of over 70 million had tuned in to their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show and they topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Although filmed in just six weeks, the movie captured Beatlemania at its most frenzied but also at its happiest.
Director Richard Lester filmed in a semi-documentary style using handheld cameras to capture the energy of the action. In case the Beatles couldn’t act when they arrived to set, the script, written by Alun Owen, was kept simple and was constructed to ensure that each of the Beatles spoke in short sentences. Once filming began and it became apparent that the boys were naturals in front of the camera, new material was written to demonstrate the individuality of each Beatle. As a result, a lot of their lines feel improvised, although little was. Paul later said, “Alun hung around with us and was careful to try and put words in our mouths… the film manages to capture our characters quite well, so I thought he did a very good script.”
The original working title of the movie was Beatlemania, however the movie’s eventual strange title was a phrase of Ringo’s, who described it in an interview: “We went to do a job, and we’d worked all day and we happened to work all night. I came up still thinking it was day I suppose, and I said, ‘It’s been a hard day …’ and I looked around and saw it was dark, so I said, ‘… night!’ So, we came to A Hard Day’s Night.”
Rolling Stone magazine summarised the plot of the movie as posing the sole question: “Will the lads make it through a typical day of press conference, fan pursuit, encounters with disapproving elders, manic playfulness and occasional self-doubt in time to play a concert for their adoring fans?”. The action on the screen syncs with the soundtrack which includes hits such as Can’t Buy Me Love, All My Loving, She Loves You and, the title track, A Hard Day’s Night.
A common thread through the movie is the constant efforts of the boys to break free from the constraints of life – their management, police, etc – they rail against anything that restricts them. The movie was ground-breaking, and it has stood the test of time. The movie provides an accurate historic snapshot of the time; watching the fans reacting to the band as they perform on stage – the intensity, the excitement, the hysteria in the theatre, is palpable through the screen. It is also clear how much the Beatles are enjoying their performance.
The movie premiered at London’s Pavilion Theatre on July 6th, 1964 and was a critical and box office smash. Two hundred thousand fans turned out to welcome the Beatles at the movie’s premiere in Liverpool that week. The movie is considered one of the most influential musical movies of all time and was rated by Time Magazine as one of the top 100 greatest movies of any genre.
The movie helped propel the Beatles to superstardom. They went on to not only become the most successful band of all time, selling over 600 million albums worldwide, but also arguably the most important artists of the 20th Century. As the renowned critic Roger Ebert says in his review of the movie, “The Beatles would go through a long summer, a disillusioned fall, a tragic winter. But, oh, what a lovely springtime. And it’s all in a movie.”