”A train and a room, and a car and a room, and a room and a room…”
A Hard Day’s Night has been touted by fans and critics alike as one of the most influential musical films of all time and a precursor to the modern music video. A huge financial and critical success, it inspired numerous films and television shows (most notably The Monkees), and featured innovative filming and editing techniques, marking the ascent of Richard Lester into the pantheon of important 1960s directors. Village Voice auteurist Andrew Sarris called it “The Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals,” while many other critics hailed it as being in the tradition of The Marx Brothers with homages to the silent-era comedies of Buster Keaton and the Keystone Cops.
And, yes, I’m sure it is all that, and probably more — but for me it’s simply a guaranteed good time… From the moment I hear the iconic opening chord* at the very start of the film, well, that’s the cue to me that, for the next 87 minutes, I will be smiling, anticipating my favorite dialog, bouncing my head, singing along, and fighting an irresistible urge to pick up my guitar and start playing… And, it’s always been like that… ever since I was a little kid… in a nutshell, The Beatles just put me in a good mood!
*BTW: the structure of the opening chord is a popular topic of debate among Beatle fan guitar players :)
Part comedy, part cinéma vérité, A Hard Day’s Night essentially ‘chronicles’ a day-in-the-life of The Beatles. So, what does this have to do with Planes Trains and Automobiles??? Well, the first section of the film is set entirely on a train as the boys travel to a television gig, and it’s here that we meet most of the main characters, and also get a sense of The Beatles’ personalities and comradery… And, yes, the footage was actually shot on a train, filming from Monday, March 2, 1964 for a full six days, as the train traveled slowly through the suburbs of England’s West Country…
That said, let’s spend some time with the boys on the train as they make their way to their live television performance…
John: Hey, pardon me for asking, but who’s that little old man?
Paul: Er, what little old man?
John: That little old man?
Paul: Oh that one, That’s my grandfather
George: Your grandfather?
George: That’s not your grandfather.
Paul: It is, you know.
George: But I’ve seen your grandfather. He lives in your house.
Paul: Oh, that’s my other grandfather, but he’s my grandfather, as well.
John: How do you reckon that one out?
Paul: Well, everyone’s entitled to two, aren’t they? and that’s my other one.
John: We know that but what’s he doing here???
Paul: Well, me mother thought the trip would do him good.
Ringo: How’s that?
Paul: He’s nursing a broken heart.
John: Oh, poor old thing. Hey mister, are you nursing a broken heart? He’s a nice old man isn’t he?
Paul: He’s very clean.
John: Hellow 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, ha ha ha…
John: And we’re looking after him, are we?
Grandfather: I’ll look after meself.
Paul: Yeah, that’s what I’m afraid of.
John: He’s got you worried, then?
Paul: Him? He’s a villain, a real mixer. And he’ll cost you a fortune in Breach of Promise cases.
John: Get on.
Paul: No, straight up.
Shake: Hey, who’s the little old man?George: It’s Paul’s Grandfather.
Shake: Oh, eye, but I thought…
John: No, that’s his other one.
Shake: Oh that’s all right then
John: Clean though, isn’t he?
Shake: Oh, eye, he’s very clean.
Norm: Now look, I’ve had a marvelous idea. Just for once, let’s all try to behave like ordinary, respectable citizens. Let’s not cause any trouble, pull any strokes, or do anything I’m gonna be sorry for. Especially tomorrow in that television theater, because…
Norm: Are you listening to me, Lennon?
John: You’re a swine. Isn’t he, George?
George: Yeah, a swine.
The Beatles’ personalities start to emerge during Norm’s ‘lecture’…
Shy George and Lovable Ringo, each immersed elsewhere, totally disregard Norm…
Adorable Paul feigns interest, hanging on Norm’s every word…
Norm (seeing Paul’s grandfather for the first time): Hey…
George, Paul, John, Ringo (in unison): Who’s that little old man?
Norm: Well, who is he?
Ringo: He belongs to Paul.
Probably not a good idea, but…
Grandfather: I want me coffee
Norm: Well you can come with Shake and me if you like.
Paul: Look after him, I don’t want to find you’ve lost him.
Norm: Don’t be cheeky. I’ll bind him to me with promises. Very clean, isn’t he? Come ed, granddad.
Man shuts window…
Paul: Do you mind if we have it open?
Man: Yes I do.
John: Yeah, but there are four of us and we’d like it open. That’s if it’s all the same to you, that is.
Man: It isn’t. I travel on this train regularly, twice a week, so I suppose I’ve some rights.
Ringo: So have we.
Ringo turns on the radio, and the Man abruptly shuts it off…
Man: And we’ll have that thing off as well, thank you.
Man: An elementary knowledge of the Railway Acts would tell you that I’m perfectly within my rights.
Paul: Yeah, but we want to hear it, and there’s more of us than you. We’re a community, like, a majority vote. Up the workers and all that stuff!
Man: Then I suggest you take that damned thing into the corridor — or some other part of the train — where you obviously belong.
John (leaning over towards Man): Give us a kiss.
Paul: Look Mr. we paid for our seats too you know.
Man: I travel on this train regularly. Twice a week!
John: Knock it off Paul. You can’t win with his sort. After all, it’s his train isn’t Mr.
Man: Don’t take that tone with me, young man. I fought the war for your sort.
Ringo: I bet you’re sorry you won.
Man: I shall call the guard!
Paul: Ah, but what? They don’t take kindly to insults, you know. Come on. Let’s go and have some coffee and leave the kennel to Lassie!
Hey mister, can we have our ball back?
Hey mister, mister… can we have our ball back?
Now, we go to the Dining Car to see what Norm, Shake and Granddad are up to…
Norm: I’ve a good mind to bump you Shake.
John: Hey, if you’re gonna have a barney can I hold your coat?
Norm: He started it.
Shake: I did not, he did.
Paul: You two have never had an argument in your life and in two minutes flat, he’s got you at it. He’s a king mixer. He hates group unity so he gets everyone at it.
George: Hey look at the talent…
Paul: Excuse me madam. Excuse me, but these young men I’m sitting with wondered if two of us could come over and join you. I’d ask you myself, only I’m shy.
Paul’s Grandfather: I’m sorry miss, you mustn’t fratranize with me prisoners.
Girl (Boyd): Prisoners?
Paul’s Grandfather: Convicts in transit… Get out ladies, get out while you can!
Norm: Hey, have you seen Paul’s Grandfather???
John: Of course, he’s concealed about me person.
Paul: Honestly, I can’t trust you with anything Norm. If you’ve lost him, I’ll cripple you…
The boys go looking for Grandfather…
Won’t tell you what Ringo sees here, but suffice to say, it might have been his lucky day… or not…
Paul: Excuse me, have you seen that little old man we were with?
John: We’ve broken out. Ah, the blessed freedom of it all! Have you got a nail file, these hand cuffs are killing me. I was framed. I’m innocent. I don’t want to go!
Paul: Sorry for disturbing you, girls.
John: I bet you can’t guess what I was in for, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha…
Paul: Should we go in here?
John: Nah, it’s probably a honeymoon couple or a company director or something…
Paul: Well, I don’t care, I’m going to broaden me outlook…
Paul’s Grandfather: Congratulate me boys, I’m engaged!
Paul: Oh no you’re not!!! Not this time.
Paul’s Grandfather: And to think me own grandson would have let them put me behind bars.
Paul: Don’t dramatize. Let’s face it, you’re lucky to be here. If they’d have had their own way, you would have been dropped off already. Well, you’ve got to admit you upset a lot of people. At least I can keep my eye on you while you’re stuck in here.
But Paul feels sorry for his Granddad, so…
John: Don’t worry son, we’ll get you the best lawyer green stamps can buy
Paul: Oh, it’s a laugh a line with Lennon…
John: Let’s do something then.
Paul: Like what?
Ringo: I’ll deal… Aye aye, the Liverpool Shuffle…
And now we are treated to our next song…at about 13 minutes into the film…
If this is love, you gotta give me more
John: Please sir, sir, can I have one to surgery sir, please sir…
Norm: No, you can’t. Now listen, as soon as I tell you, get out through this door here into that big car that’s waiting…
The old in-one-car-door-and-out-the-other-give-them-the-slip trick…
Not a moment of peace when they’re out and about…
Well, at 17 minutes into the film, the boys are off the train, so this is where I will leave you… But suffice to say that, as the movie progresses, we are treated to some marvelous classics as The Beatles rehearse for their show, and later again, during their television performance (to a horde of screaming fans including a very young Phil Collins by the way). We also see some fun gags and side adventures along the way, plus a bunch of Ringo trouble caused by Granddad, culminating in some Keystone Cop like chaos…
Just a few fun facts before I sign off…
- The title track won a Grammy for Best Performance by a Vocal Group in 1964.
- The movie was nominated for two Oscars:
- Alun Owen: Test Writing (Story and Screenplay)
- George Martin: Best Music (Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatement)
- The word “Beatles” is never mentioned in the movie.
- The plot was inspired by the Beatles themselves. According to director Richard Lester “The boys had just recently played Stockholm. I asked John, ‘How did you like it?’ ‘It was lovely,’ he said. ‘It was a car, and a room, and a stage, and a cheese sandwich.’ That became the script!”
- In the “Can’t Buy Me Love” field sequence, Richard Lester stood in for John, who was at Foyles bookstore at a literary luncheon for his first book, In His Own Write.
- George Harrison met his future/first wife, Pattie Boyd on the set. Boyd was seeing photographer Eric Swayne at the time, so she declined when George asked her out. A few days later, after ending her relationship with Swayne, she went back to work on the film and, when Harrison asked her out on a date for a second time, she accepted. According to Boyd, one of the first things Harrison said to her on the film set was: “Will you marry me? Well, if you won’t marry me, will you have dinner with me tonight?”
- The concert performance sequence at the end was filmed with six cameras in front of an audience of 350 screaming fans (including a 13-year-old Phil Collins) at the Scala Theatre on Charlotte Street, in London.
- At one point the studio considered re-dubbing their voices with those of trained actors, but Richard Lester absolutely refused.
- The constant mention of Paul’s grandfather as being “clean” are references to Wilfrid Brambell’s role in “Steptoe and Son” (1962) which featured the catch-phrase, “You dirty old man.”
- In 1984 MTV honored Richard Lester with a special award for being “The Father of the Music Video”.
- Songs featured in the film include “A Hard Day’s Night,” ”I Should Have Known Better,” ”If I Fell,” ”Can’t Buy Me Love,” ”And I Love Her,” ”I’m Happy Just to Dance with You,” ”Tell Me Why” and ”She Loves You”
A Big Thank You to the marvelous Classic Movie Blog Association for hosting this very special event! There are so many more wonderful Classic Bloggers participating in this event so please be sure to check out the other entries.