In 1964, the Beatles took no prisoners when they charmed their way into the ears and hearts of Americans. With “A Hard Day’s Night,” directed by Richard Lester, the Beatles captured the silver screen as well. Is “A Hard Day’s Night” just a promotional film? Yes; Richard Lester did churn out a quick, low-budget cash-in. But the final product can’t be summed up like that. “A Hard Day’s Night” is a kind of a backstage musical and — full of rapid editing and the use of the then-new hand-held camera — a showcase for the talented Beatles, the innovative shooting and editing of Richard Lester and John Jympson, and the natural dialogue by Alun Owen.
If you thought that black-and-white footage equals snooze-fest, think again: in the very opening credits, the Beatles run away from mad fans as the title song blasts. Lester maybe best-known for his work on Superman II (1980), but it’s his work on the silent short film “The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film” (1960) that shines through here. With The Running’s bizarre, slapstick humor, Lester mixes in some of the most stunning displays of what the hand-held camera was capable of doing in the 1960s.
One of the best scenes occurs when, to the tune of “Can’t Buy Me Love” the Beatles play in a field as the speed cranks up like a comical silent film and slows down. From a dizzying aerial shot, the band members spin about and race. The Beatles won’t settle down for long, so the camera doesn’t either. The editing is so rapid it can’t contain itself either, wanting to capture every single exciting moment in a short amount of time.
But what about the plot? There’s no need to consider it too much, because it’s a bunch of gags stringed together with really, really good songs. One episode involves the Beatles playfully teasing a grumpy old war veteran. “Don’t take that tone with me, young man,” says the war veteran. “I fought the war for your sort.” Ringo coolly replies, “I bet you’re sorry you won” (the film is packed with rapid-fire humor like this). The Beatles are out for a good time while poking fun at the older generation and other authority figures. But you’ll have to look elsewhere for any sort of insightful commentary on the generational gap, because that’s not what the film is about. This film is about four young men who run and smile as fans chase them, flirt with girls, play around, crack jokes, and treat fame as no big deal.
This isn’t an in-depth character study. This may not be Laurence Olivier performing Hamlet, but the Beatles and everyone else speak their lines with such naturalness and fun that it doesn’t matter a bit. Besides, did Olivier every sing something as joyously addictive as “Can’t Buy Me Love”?