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Film: A Hard Day's Night
Ah, the almost-innocent joys of youth...

Reporter: Are you a mod or a rocker?
Ringo: Uh, no, I'm a mocker.

The first and greatest film of The Beatles. It provided clear caricatures of the members of the band— not ideal, but better than the Band Toons. And it helped fuel the phenomenon it showed onscreen.

It's just an ordinary day-and-a-half in the life for John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr: a train and a room and a car and a room and a room and a room; interviews and rehearsals and performances. It's slightly more unusual than most ordinary days, though, because Paul is supposed to be keeping an eye on his "very clean" grandfather, a "king mixer." But since when have the Beatles, offstage, done what they were supposed to do?

The film itself has become a classic due to its many innovations in cinematography (notably the invention of the handheld camera shot and its use of the birds-eye-view shots during the "Can't Buy Me Love" sequence).

It was directed by Richard Lester, who did a lot of surreal comedy, some of which is seen in this film. The screenwriter was Alun Owen. Owen spent a week with the group to write the right script, and was nominated for an Oscar. However, if you want to find out what's scripted and what's improvised, his original screenplay has been published and is still in print.

The Beatles later did four more movies: Help!, Magical Mystery Tour (though that one ended up a TV Movie), the cartoon Yellow Submarine, and the actual documentary Let It Be.


Tropes:

  • Aerith and Bob: The Beatles' managers are Norm and Shake.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Much of the conflict in this film comes from uncertainly-motivated teasing of Ringo, and his reactions to it.
    • Subverted, as Ringo actually takes it all in good humor until Paul's Grandfather deliberately provokes him into running away.
    • Double Subverted: he's willing to put up with it, but it's made clear that Ringo doesn't appreciate all the jibes directed at him. That simmering dissatisfaction is what Paul's Grandfather ends up exploiting.
  • Antagonist in Mourning: For all the time John actively invests in making his job hell, Norm seems quite devastated when he believes he's just let him run down the drain with the bath water. (Those "hints of surreal humor" we mentioned earlier? Good example, here.)
  • As Himself: Well, of course.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: ...and George will answer "Arthur."
    Reporter: How did you find America?
    John: Turn left at Greenland.
    • Earlier, when Shake greets the boys on the train:
      Shake: You got on all right, then?
      John: No.
  • Berserk Button: Don't touch Ringo's drums. (As George explains, they loom large in his legend.)
  • Big Heroic Run: Complete with a Theme Music Power-Up in the form of a reprise of "Can't Buy Me Love."
  • Blunt "Yes": George's response in an interview.
    Reporter: Has success changed your life?
    George: Yes.
  • Buxom Is Better: Apparently Paul's grandfather is this. When Margaret Nolan's Gambler Groupie leans over his shoulder and shows off her cleavage, he grins lecherously and says "I bet you're a great swimmer".
  • Chick Magnet: Played for laughs near the beginning of the film.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Ringo, possibly. John strangely doesn't play one himself, in spite of being reputed for being one later in life. Though one could make an argument for the scene in which John plays with the toy boat in the bathtub.
  • Comically Missing the Point: When Ringo is sitting under a hairdryer wearing a bizarre wig, and incidentally reading a magazine:
    John: Ringo, what are you up to?
    Ringo: Page five.
  • Cool Old Guy: Paul's mischief-making grandfather, probably meant to show that older folks could enjoy Beatle fun too.
  • The Cuckoolander Was Right: When Ringo tries to tell the others that there's a man in the cupboard, John and Paul laugh him off. Only George is wise enough to check and, sure enough, there is.
  • Dance Party Ending: A variant appears in the form of an extended Beatles concert at the end.
  • Day In The Life: The Beatles, on tour.
  • Deadpan Snarker: All four Beatles were masters of the craft. An example of a detail taken from real life, as the boys really would give sarcastic answers to reporters as they do in the film.
    • Particular mention should go to George's completely straight-faced answer to "What do you call that haircut?" "Arthur."
    • After John manages to coax a sour "'ello" out of Paul's grandfather:
    John: He can talk then, can he?
    Paul: Of course he can talk, he's a human being, isn't he?
    Ringo: Well, if he's your grandfather, who knows, ahahaha.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Paul's Grandfather complains about traveling this way:
    "So far, I've been in a train and a room, a car and a room, and a room and a room!"
  • Description Cut: "It'll be wine, women and song once Ringo gets the taste of it." Cut to Ringo wincing as he's eating a sandwich in a pub somewhere.
  • Dirty Old Man: Paul's grandfather, despite everyone calling him "clean". When he's first seen in the opening montage, he's looking at a nudie magazine.
    "He'll cost you a fortune in breach of promise cases."
  • Fake Shemp: For John during "Can't Buy Me Love". He was off promoting his book In His Own Write during production, so that's why you don't see him much during the sequence. Also, those are Richard Lester's legs you see instead of Paul's on the fire escape stairs—Paul was too hung over to participate.
  • Follow the Leader: To say that the film's aesthetic (black-and-white, handheld camera, 60s coolness and Postmodernism) is indebted to the French New Wave is quite the Understatement.
  • The Gadfly: George admits he and the other Beatles are this in regards to a popular model of fashion designer Simon Marshall, recalling one incident where they wrote letters giving her false praise then, later than night, poking fun at her when she appeared on a television program.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar:
    • John "snorting" his unopened bottle of Pepsi.
    • During the press conference, a female reporter asks John "Have you any hobbies?". John grabs her notepad, writes a four-letter word, the last two letters of which are obviously TS, and then shows it to the reporter, whose jaw drops upon reading it.
    • In the same press conference scene, Ringo is asked, "How do you like your girlfriends to dress?" He considers the question for a moment before chuckling to himself.
    John: [whilst claiming to be an escaped prisoner] I bet you can't guess what I was in for!
  • Groupie Brigade: Of note, one of the schoolgirls on the train is Pattie Boyd, who would later become George Harrison's wife (and later the wife of Harrison's best friend Eric Clapton, who wrote "Layla" about her).
  • Height Angst:
    • Norm, the Beatles' manager, complains constantly about his assistant's height.
      Norm: Stop being taller than me!
      Shake: I can't help it.
    • Ringo is seen to be concerned about his height as well.
      George: What's the matter with you, then?
      Ringo: It's [Paul's] grandfather. I can tell he doesn't like me. It's cause I'm little.
      George: Ah, you've got an inferiority complex, you have.
      Ringo: Yeah, I know, that's why I play the drums - it's me active compensatory factor.
  • Hitler Cam: Used to frame John Lennon during the performance of "If I Fell".
  • Homemade Sweater From Hell: Worn by the Television Director (which actually belonged to the actor and was not a costume). The Beatles comment on how ridiculous he looks in it.
    John: I bet he hasn't got a wife. Look at his sweater.
    Paul: You never know. She might've knitted it.
    John: She knitted him.
  • I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder:
    Ringo: I'm a drummer, not a wet nurse!
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: John Lennon, as in real life. He may constantly slight Ringo, but "If I Fell" shows him attempting—successfully—to snap him out of his gloom. Paul and George, to a lesser extent.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: When Paul's Grandfather complains about being "In a train and a room, a car and a room, and a room and a room!", one of the makeup artists nods in agreement, saying "What a clean old man!"
  • Jukebox Musical: The film's soundtrack consists of original Beatle songs either performed (in prerecorded form) by the Beatles or arranged for orchestra by their recording producer, George Martin.
  • Lens Flare: During "And I Love Her", as the camera turns to Paul's silhouette in a stagelight.
  • Lip Sync:
    • This is normal procedure for musicals, but it's notable here because a sharp-eared person can see Paul singing parts in "I Should Have Known Better" that, strictly and musically speaking, aren't there. (Actually, it's just the wrong verses.)
    • Also look at John's facial expressions during "If I Fell". Proof that not only did they do this, but the boys really didn't take it seriously.
  • Magical Realism: The scene where the Beatles appear outisde the train, chasing it along. The scene where John somehow disappears down a bathtub drain. And, during the police chase montage, John leads the pack out of the station...only to also somehow bring up the rear.
  • Mistaken for an Imposter: Ringo at the police station.
    • There's also John and Millie (the stage hand):
    Millie: Hello! Oh, wait a minute! Don't tell me who you are...
    John: No, I'm not.
    Millie: Oh, you are.
    John: I'm not.
    Millie: Oh, you are, I know you are.
    John: I'm not, no.
    Millie: You look just like him.
    John: Do I? You're the first one that's said that, ever. (and so on)
    • And then there's George at the fashion studio:
    George: I'm terribly sorry, but there seems to be some sort of misunderstanding.
    Simon Marshall: Oh, you can come off it with us. You don't have to do the old adenoidal glottal-stop and carry-on for our benefit.
    George: I'm afraid I don't understand...
    Simon Marshall: Oh, my God, he's a natural!
    Secretary: Well, I did tell them not to send us real ones.
    Simon Marshall: They ought to know by now that the phonies are much easier to handle.
  • Mistaken for Servant: Exploited. As Paul's grandfather is gambling at the Le Cercle club, he runs out of money. So he writes a "tab" on a piece of paper, puts on a plate, places a napkin on his arm (he's already wearing a very waiter-ish suit, "borrowed" from a room-service man at his hotel) and walks over to a patron, who pays him. He then uses the money to get back in the game.
  • Mockumentary: Many viewers thought this was a true documentary. Considering how much Reality Subtext there is, it's not surprising.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Margaret Nolan played the bosomy woman in the low-cut dress draped all over Paul's grandfather at the casino.
  • Noodle Incident: "But when I plugged her in, she just blew up."
  • Oh Crap:
    • Ringo's reaction after he accidentally causes the lady he's helping to fall into a sinkhole.
    • The TV Director's reaction when Paul's Grandfather ascends through the stage floor in the middle of the taping of "She Loves You." The incident probably revived the Director's fear that he would be banished to directing "the news in Welsh for life" after all.
  • Off the Rails: Paul's Grandfather is sitting atop a freight elevator under the set of a German operetta forging Beatle autographs when he hears Norm coming. He quickly stands up, but inadvertently activates the elevator and interrupts the performance to the annoyance of the director. He does it again towards the end, during the Beatles' concert while playing "She Loves You", though this time, Paul just pushes him offstage.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: "Hey, mister! Mister! Can we have our ball back?"
  • Orbital Shot: Done during the "Can't Buy Me Love" sequence when the Beatles break out of the studio.
  • Performance Video: Much of this film qualifies. The entire film is probably the Ur Example of Music Videos.
  • Phrase Catcher: "He's very clean."
    • During the first scene in the train car, the question "Who's that little old man?" is asked enough that when someone opens his mouth to say it, all four of the boys beat him to it.
  • Puppy-Dog Eyes: Pretty much Ringo's default expression. It's perhaps most noticeable when the man on the train tells him to turn off the radio.
    "But..."
  • Puddle-Covering Chivalry: Ringo Starr takes off his coat to help a woman cross a puddle, but it turns out to be a manhole and she plummets down into the sewer.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot:
    • In numerous ways, real-life Beatlemania being an obvious example. Other minor examples are George tripping and sprawling over the suitcases during the opening chase (a real accident that was left in), and Ringo's Sad Clown sequence walking along the lake (it was praised as some of the best acting in the movie, but Ringo himself later admitted he was extremely hungover and genuinely miserable that day).
    • Paul's Grandfather's complaint that "So far, I've been in a train and a room, a car and a room, and a room and a room!" is based on actual complaints the Beatles had about touring.
    • And Paul's appearance in disguise may have been based on his tendency, at least in the earlier days of Beatlemania, to do just that so he could wander the streets without being bothered.
    • A man really did once sit in a train car with The Beatles and tell them to turn off their radio. They told Alun Owen, who worked it into the script.
    • Ringo having the most fan mail is particularly true. In the US, Ringo was the most popular Beatle.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: John delivers an unusually good-natured one towards Paul's Grandfather after all the trouble he's caused.
    John: You know your trouble, you should have gone west to America. You would have been a senior citizen of Boston. But you took a wrong turn, and what happened? You're a lonely old man from Liverpool.
    Grandfather: [Sour] But I'm clean.
    John: [Cheerful cynicism] Are you?
  • Rule of Three:
    • Number of times Paul answers a reporter's question with "No actually, we're just good friends," the last time in response to a query about his father.
    • Number of times Ringo puts his coat over a puddle for a woman to walk over, the last time being... less helpful than the first two.
    • Number of times the Beatles lead the policemen chasing them past a man attempting to steal a car. The burglar tries to look inconspicuous the first two times but gives up and doesn’t even bother trying to hide what he’s doing the last time.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Ringo's vocabulary was apparently rather limited in reality, which makes it hilarious when he drops phrases like "bourgeois clichés" or "active compensatory factor".
  • Squee: The extras playing the fans, being actual Beatles fans (which was inevitable if you hired three hundred teenagers in London in 1964), were so good that the filmmakers could do only one take of the relevant scenes — and about half the "takes" were more like "let the fans see the Beatles, and then just keep the cameras rolling".
  • Take That Kiss:
    Man on Train: Then I suggest you take that damned thing to the corridor or some other part of the train where you obviously belong.
  • Teacher's Pet: The others think of Ringo as this; their manager loves him because he's the only one who isn't a troublemaker.
  • Tempting Fate: When the Beatles are late for a rehearsal, the TV director gets into a snit and petulantly threatens that "if they aren't on this stage in thirty seconds, there'll be trouble!" Literally three seconds after he's announced this, the Beatles calmly amble onto stage. And to add insult to injury...
    John: [To the director] Standin' about, eh? Some people have it dead easy.
  • Theme Tune Cameo: John, Paul and George sing part of "A Hard Day's Night" at one point.
  • Train Escape: The opening montage ends with the Beatles jumping on a train to escape their crazed fans.
  • Truth in Television: A number of gags in the film, such as Ringo getting the most fan-mail, are real titbits from the band's lives. George Harrison's Mistaken for an Imposter bit was likely a reference to him entering a Beatles lookalike contest under a fake name and not winning.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight:
    Ringo: [Opens door] Any of you lock a man in the cupboard?
    John & Paul: A man? Don't be soft.
    Ringo: Well, somebody did.
    George: [Gets up and checks in closet] He's right, y'know.
    John: There you go.
  • Unusual Euphemism:
    Norm: The place is surging with girls!
    John: Please, sir, can I have one to surge me, sir, please sir?
  • Visual Pun:
    • John snorts the top of a Coke bottle... subverted in that it's a Pepsi bottle.
    • Also, when they perform "I'm Happy Just to Dance With You", the set is decorated with paintings of literal beetles.
  • You Had Us Worried There: This happens several times when the Beatles arrive somewhere they're supposed to be at the very last minute. Only one or two of them are life-threatening.

Halloween (1978)Danny Peary Cult Movies ListThe Harder They Come
Abbey RoadFranchise/The BeatlesHelp!
The BeatlesCreator/United ArtistsHelp!
Bing CrosbyMusic StoriesHop
Groundhog DayRoger Ebert Great Movies ListHeart of Glass
Hard BoiledCreator/The Criterion CollectionHarold and Maude
Happy Go LuckyBritish FilmsHelp!
The GorgonFilms of the 1960sThe Horror of Party Beach
Jack NicholsonFunny/Film    

alternative title(s): A Hard Days Night
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