A Hard Day's Night is a 1964 British comedy film directed by Richard Lester and starring the Beatles—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr—during the height of Beatlemania. It was written by Alun Owen and originally released by United Artists. The film portrays several days in the lives of the group.
The film was a financial and critical success. Time magazine rated it as one of the all-time great 100 films. British critic Leslie Halliwell described it as a "comic fantasia with music; an enormous commercial success with the director trying every cinematic gag in the book" and awarded it a full four stars. The film is credited as being one of the most influential musical films of all time, inspiring numerous spy films, The Monkees' television show and pop music videos.
Bound for a London show, the Beatles escape a horde of fans. Once they are aboard the train and trying to relax, various interruptions test their patience: after a dalliance with a female passenger, Paul's grandfather is confined to the guard's van and the four lads join him there to keep him company. John, Paul, George, and Ringo play a card game, entertaining schoolgirls before arriving at their destination.
Upon arrival in London, the Beatles are driven to a hotel, only to feel trapped inside. After a night out during which Paul's grandfather causes minor trouble at a casino, the group is taken to the theatre where their performance is to be televised. The preparations are lengthy so Ringo decides to spend some time alone reading a book. Paul's grandfather, a "villain, a real mixer", convinces him to go outside to experience life rather than reading books. Ringo goes off by himself. He tries to have a quiet drink in a pub, walks alongside a canal and rides a bicycle along a railway station platform. Meanwhile, the rest of the band frantically (and unsuccessfully) attempts to find Ringo. Finally, he returns after being arrested by the police along with Paul's grandfather, and the concert goes ahead as planned. After the concert, the band is taken away from the hordes of fans via helicopter.
The screenplay was written by Alun Owen, who was chosen because the Beatles were familiar with his play No Trams to Lime Street, and he had shown an aptitude for Liverpudlian dialogue. McCartney commented, "Alun hung around with us and was careful to try and put words in our mouths that he might've heard us speak, so I thought he did a very good script." Owen spent several days with the group, who told him their lives were like "a train and a room and a car and a room and a room and a room"; the character of Paul's grandfather refers to this in the dialogue. Owen wrote the script from the viewpoint that the Beatles had become prisoners of their own fame, their schedule of performances and studio work having become punishing.
The script comments cheekily on the Beatles' fame. For instance, at one point a fan, played by Anna Quayle, apparently recognises John Lennon, though she does not actually mention Lennon's name, saying only "you are...". He demurs, saying his face is not quite right for "him", initiating a surreal dialogue ending with the fan agreeing that Lennon doesn't "look like him at all", and Lennon saying to himself that "she looks more like him than I do". Other dialogue is derived from actual interviews with the Beatles. When Ringo is asked if he's a mod or a rocker, he replies: "Uh, no, I'm a mocker", a line derived from a joke he made on the TV show Ready Steady Go!. The frequent reference to McCartney's grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell) as a "clean old man" sets up a contrast with the stock description of Brambell's character, Albert Steptoe in Steptoe and Son, as a "dirty old man".
Audiences also responded to the Beatles' brash social impudence. Director Richard Lester said, "The general aim of the film was to present what was apparently becoming a social phenomenon in this country. Anarchy is too strong a word, but the quality of confidence that the boys exuded! Confidence that they could dress as they liked, speak as they liked, talk to the Queen as they liked, talk to the people on the train who ‘fought the war for them’ as they liked... [Everything was] still based on privilege—privilege by schooling, privilege by birth, privilege by accent, privilege by speech. The Beatles were the first people to attack this… they said if you want something, do it. You can do it. Forget all this talk about talent or ability or money or speech. Just do it."
Despite the fact that the original working titles of the film were first The Beatles and then Beatlemania, the group's name is never spoken in the movie—it is, however, visible on Ringo's drum kit, on the stage lighting, and on the helicopter in the final scene. The television performance scene also contains a visual pun on the group's name, with photos of "beetles" visible on the wall behind the dancers.
The film was shot for United Artists (UA) using a cinéma vérité style in black-and-white and produced over a period of sixteen weeks. It had a low budget for its time of £200,000 ($500,000) and filming was finished in under seven weeks. At first, the film itself was something of a secondary consideration to UA, whose primary interest was in being able to release the soundtrack album in the United States before Capitol Records (the American EMI affiliate who had first shot at releasing Beatles music in the States) got around to issuing their material; in the words of Bud Ornstein, the European head of production for United Artists: "Our record division wants to get the soundtrack album to distribute in the States, and what we lose on the film we'll get back on this disc." As film historian Stephen Glynn put it, A Hard Day's Night was intended as, "a low-budget exploitation movie to milk the latest brief musical craze for all it was worth."
Unlike most productions, it was filmed in near sequential order, as stated by Lennon in 1964. Filming began on 2 March 1964 at Marylebone station in London (sometimes misidentified as Paddington). The Beatles had joined the actors' union, Equity, only that morning. The first week of filming was on a train travelling between London and Minehead. On 10 March, scenes with Ringo were shot at the Turk's Head pub in Twickenham, and over the following week various interior scenes were filmed at Twickenham Studios. From 23 to 30 March, filming moved to the Scala Theatre, and on 31 March, concert footage was shot there, although the group mimed to backing tracks. The "Can't Buy Me Love" segment, which featured creative camera work and the band running and jumping around in a field was shot on 23 April 1964 at Thornbury Playing Fields, Isleworth, Middlesex. The final scene was filmed the following day in West Ealing, London, where Ringo obligingly drops his coat over puddles for a lady to step on, only to discover that the final puddle is actually a large hole in the road.
Before A Hard Day's Night was released in America, a United Artists executive asked Lester to dub the voices of the group with mid-Atlantic accents. McCartney angrily replied, "Look, if we can understand a fucking cowboy talking Texan, they can understand us talking Liverpool." Lester subsequently directed The Beatles' 1965 film.