Ringo Had Secret Star Power and 7 Other Things You Didn't Know About 'A Hard Day's Night'
The Beatles’ madcap first feature, A Hard Day’s Night,has been delighting audiences for 50 years now with its mop top mixture of infectious pop, zany comedy, and freewheeling early ’60s spirit. But no matter how many times you’ve seen it (and especially if you haven’t) there are many things you may not have known about this rock ‘n’ roll landmark. Here are 8 tidbits about the band’s 1964 big-screen debut, which is scoring a theatrical re-release on July 4 and is available on Blu-ray now in an extras-laden Criterion edition.
1. Ringo was secretly the movie’s star.
Ringo Starr may be treated as the tag-along little brother in A Hard Day’s Night, but without him, the film wouldn’t have its catchy title. Frequently prone to malapropisms, Starr once blurted out after an all-night work session, “It’s been a hard day’s night.” Everyone agreed that was the only logical name and John Lennon set to work writing the title track. That wasn’t Ringo’s only contribution to the production: Critics at the time pointed to his charming performance as one of the movie’s standouts. Wrote the New York Times in 1964, “Unless you know the fellows, it is hard to identify them, except for Ringo Starr, the big-nosed one, who does a saucy comic sequence on his own.”
2. Director Richard Lester was a speed demon.
Hard Day’s director Richard Lester was hired for the gig in large part because he had experience making things fast and on the cheap thanks to his background in television and advertising. And A Hard Day’s Night was produced supercheap and superfast, with shooting commencing in March 1964 and the finished product arriving in theaters on July 6, a punishing schedule that allowed for roughly three weeks of postproduction. The main reason for the swiftness was that United Artists, the studio behind the film, had doubts about the band’s longevity. “[They thought] that [Beatlemania] will probably last through August, but come September, somebody else will come along,” Lester told Film Journal International in 2000. “But we knew when we were filming that we were doing good work, and before we started shooting they had come to America and done the Ed Sullivan show, and what was a local phenomenon had become a worldwide phenomenon. We were reasonably confident that we were onto something.” Hard Day’s success made Lester a full-fledged feature filmmaker, responsible for such movies as The Knack, Robin and Marian, half of Superman II and (unfortunately) all of Superman III.
3. There was a hilarious in-joke if you were British.
Casting Wilfrid Brambell as Paul McCartney’s “very clean” grandfather was, at the time, a joke that only British audiences would have laughed at. The 52-year-old actor had become something of a national treasure by playing the title character on the TV series Steptoe and Son a rag-and-bone-man — or, as you’d say in the president’s English, a junkyard dealer — who was renowned for being the opposite of clean. In fact, “You dirty old man” was a catchphrase used to describe the character on the show. (Steptoe and Son later begat the Redd Foxx series Sanford and Son on U.S. television.)
4. The movie marked the beginning of a very complicated romance.
That pretty British bird in the train’s dining car that Paul dons a bowler hat to try and impress is none other than Patricia “Pattie” Boyd, the woman who wound up setting off one of, if not the greatest, love triangles in rock history. Even though the Cute One wooed her onscreen, Boyd ended up going home with the Quiet One, kicking a preexisting boyfriend to the curb to date and eventually marry George. “I was playing the part of a schoolgirl, which was kind of thrilling, but also embarrassing,” she told the radio station K-Earth in 2014. “Can you imagine, you’re going to meet the Beatles and I’m dressed up in a stupid schoolgirl’s uniform.” Harrison and Boyd walked down the aisle 18 months after their first meeting and stayed together until 1974, during which time George’s pal Eric Clapton also proclaimed his love for her in the song “Layla” and took it really badly when she declined to run away with him. (The two eventually did marry in 1979, but only made it to the 5-year mark before separating.) The whole saga was chronicled in Boyd’s 2008 memoir, Wonderful Tonight.