Restored 'Hard Day's Night' still magical



It says a lot about the evolution of aging that the strange old coots the Beatles encounter in “A Hard Day’s Night” are a good deal younger than Paul McCartney is today. In fact, the odd bird who plays his grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell), and helps represent the nutty or square older generation, was just 50 when they shot the film in 1964.

Mr. McCartney comes to town Monday, and should he step out of a hotel room or an airplane in the presence of a group of women — from 16 to 60 — it’s not out of the question that they’ll chase the 72-year-old down the street.

The Beatles get chased quite a bit in “A Hard Day’s Night.” The movie, which has been restored for its 50th anniversary, opens with a virtual stampede of girls following the mop-top stars through a London train station to the tune of the title track. George Harrison, who stumbles along the way, barely makes it alive.

From there, the film, long considered to be a template for future rock ’n’ roll movies and short videos, follows the boys through a few whirlwind days leading up to a big television splash. (Production started the month after “The Ed Sullivan Show” gig, in March 1964).

“A Hard Day’s Night” would not have been the landmark it was without director Richard Lester, who shot the film in a glorious black and white cinema verite and modeled it after slapstick comedy in the Buster Keaton/Charlie Chaplin/Marx Brothers vein.

Mr. Brambell, a comic actor who practically steals the show from the four lads, sums up the theme and what little plot there is in a complaint he wages to the group: “Lookit, I thought I was supposed to be getting a change of scenery, and so far I’ve been in a train and a room, and a car and a room, and a room and a room.”

The Beatles, who are never referred to as “The Beatles” in the film (except for the logo on Ringo Starr’s drums), are hustled from place to place, making life as difficult as possible for their fictional manager Norm (Norman Rossington) and road manager Shake (John Junkin). Management’s biggest headache is bandleader John Lennon, whose genius is matched by his talent for being a total jerk.

Norm: “This is a battle of nerves between John and me.”

Shake: “John hasn’t got any.”

Norm: “What?”

Shake: “Nerves.”

Norm: “No, that’s just the trouble.”

“A Hard Day’s Night” meanders a bit early on — and will likely bore young fans who came to the band via video games — but it picks up in the third act when grandpa leads Ringo astray, ultimately leading to a Keystone Cops-like chase to the gig.

It’s in the gigs, and rehearsals, that Mr. Lester and his subjects show their true mastery, making this essential viewing not only for fans but anyone shooting a movie scene with a band. Case in point: Clint Eastwood either never saw this or failed to revisit it when he directed the mostly static performance scenes in “Jersey Boys.” Mr. Lester doesn’t position The Beatles in a line and aim the camera. He arranges them in various configurations and isn’t afraid to shoot from crooked angles. The black and white adds the timeless and elegant touch.

The Beatles provide the perfect raw materials with the songs, ranging from big hits such as “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Tell Me Why” and “She Loves You,” to the lesser known, Harrison-led “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You.”

And cheers to Ringo. He not only gets the best actor award among the Fab Four, but also he provided the malaprop that became the song and title for “A Hard Day’s Night.”

It opens Friday at the Regent Square Theater and runs through July 10.


Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg

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