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).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.Director: Richard Lester. Most of his work is surreal comedy. Hints of that reach this film.Screenwriter: Alun Owen. He 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.
Actor Allusion: Paul's grandfather is frequently referred to as "clean" because the actor, Wilfrid Brambell, played a "dirty old man" in Steptoe And Son (which begat the American versionSanford and Son). These jokes would often go over American fans' heads, but British audiences would've gotten the references immediately.
And according to the extras on the DVD, Brambell was a meticulously clean and well dressed man in real life.
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. He only runs off after being provoked by Paul's Grandfather, however.
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.)
Cloud Cuckoolander: 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
It continues from there.
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.
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?
Romance on the Set: George Harrison met his first wife, Pattie Boyd, while shooting this film. She played the blonde schoolgirl who says "Prisoners?" when Paul tries to flirt with her on the train.
Shout-Out: Ringo is invited to the Le Cercle casino, which was where we first meet James Bond at the beginning of Dr. No. And the girl with Paul's Grandfather is played by Margaret Nolan, who played Dink in Goldfinger.
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".
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.
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.