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.
5. The press conference was as harried as it looked.
If you think the Fab Four look out of sorts at that press conference, that’s because they weren’t even supposed to be there that day. Although that sequence had been written into the script, it was originally scheduled for a later date and was bumped up after the London coppers politely asked them to take a hike from the location they were scheduled to shoot in. “Someone had tipped off that we were coming, and as the cameras were set down the kids started to arrive, and the police said, ‘You’re a disturbance. Piss off,’” Lester told Steven Soderbergh in the indispensable book, Getting Away With It. So the crew quickly moved to the upstairs bar in the now-vanished Scala Theatre, where they packed the place with whoever they could convince to come by on short notice. “A lot of them were actual journalists or journalists’ wives doing the interview…because we didn’t have time to cast it” Lester said. “And there were cases where some answers were cut to the wrong questions to make them seem a little bit more bizarre.”
6. There was a song that didn’t make the cut—until it did.
When the Beatles finally bust free of their stifling, suffocating schedule of rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal and head to a nearby field to run, jump and in general blow off steam, the song that was originally intended to accompany their antics was “I’ll Cry Instead.” Lester deep-sixed it in favor of “Can’t Buy Me Love,” which he thought was a more appropriate and all-around better song. “I’ll Cry Instead” snuck back into the film for its 1981 rerelease however, playing over a pretitles montage of vintage Beatles photos. Lester hated that addition, telling Soderbergh in Getting Away With It, “I think there was some clause in [producer Walter Shenson’s] deal that there would be new footage added, and the only new footage that existed was something that he would have to make up of stills and snippets of a trailer and odd bits and pieces. And he stuck this song on the front. You know, I just don’t even want to think about it, because it so ruins the impact of [“A Hard Day’s Night”].”
7. There was a future famous face in that concert crowd.
Mixed in amongst the throngs of screaming girls in the concert sequence at the end of the movie are a few lone screaming boys. One them happens to be li’l Phil Collins, who, of course, grew up to be the frontman of his own rock outfit, Genesis. “Trust me, I didn’t get the part because of my extraordinary acting ability,” Collins once remarked in a making-of documentary. “Actually, I was there because like everybody else in the theater, I was crazy about the Beatles. And believe me, we didn’t have to do much acting. All we needed was to hear that extraordinary music.”
8. After you watched A Hard Day’s Night, you could also read it.
As Yahoo Movies’ Jen Chaney recently wrote, movie novelizations used to be standard operating procedure for Hollywood blockbusters. But even smaller movies like A Hard Day’s Night could find their way to bookshelves if the demand was there; celebrated British author John Burke translated Alun Owen’s Oscar-nominated screenplay into prose. The novelization is currently out of print, but there’s a MoveOn.org petition to make it available again. Or you can read some passages online including the opening one, which differs greatly from the way the film starts: “The Beatles were in the middle of a yelling, laughing, rough-and-tumble soccer match in the living room of their hotel suite when the door to the corridor burst open unexpectedly. George had just gotten the ball from Paul and sent it caroming off Ringo’s nose in John’s direction. John had his foot drawn back for the kick before he spotted Norm, their stocky, much-harassed road manager, standing in the doorway, staring at them with startled eyes.”
Photo credit: Janus Films