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With: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Wilfrid Brambell, Norman Rossington, John Junkin
Written by: Alun Owen
Directed by: Richard Lester
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 90
Date: 07/05/1964

A Hard Day's Night (1964)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Still Works Like a Dog

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The best thing you can say about this movie is what Andrew Sarris said back in 1964 -- it's the Citizen Kane of juke box musicals.

Like Kane, A Hard Day's Night still seems fresh and thrilling 35 years later. The Beatles' dialogue, written by Alun Owen, always seems improvised, but it was actually all carefully scripted. The humor is based on the personalities of the players -- John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr -- and therefore has not aged. The documentary-like black-and-white cinematography adds to the illusion that the story is happening before our eyes. MTV should be this good all the time.

The whole thing feels like a fluke when you think that the Beatles were considered a flash-in-the-pan at the time, and this movie was meant as a disposable quickie. Of course, the movie has miraculously stood the test of time, just as the band went on to create some of the greatest world-class pop music of all time. The three-minute singles included in this movie ("If I Fell," "I Wanna Be Your Man," "Can't Buy Me Love," etc.) still feel vibrant and alive, exploding out of the speakers with the freshness of a band that loves to play and sing. (How many bands today give you the impression that they love music?)

It's one of the greatest movies of all time, and the model by which all other rock 'n' roll movies continue to be measured.

Director Richard Lester also made the follow-up Help! which doesn't stand up nearly so well. Yet he was considered a "hip" director for many years, through films like Petulia (1968), The Three Musketeers (1974), The Four Musketeers (1975), Robin and Marian (1976) and Superman II (1981).

A Hard Day's Night showed at the 1999 San Francisco International Film Festival in a gorgeous brand-new print with remastered sound and an extra song thrown in. Miramax's 2-disc DVD set boasts this same remastered print, and comes with more mini-documentaries than I care to count. It's too bad that Lester, who is still with us at age 70, could not be called upon for a commentary track.

In 2022, the Criterion Collection released a magnificent two-disc set, including a new 4K master (supervised by Lester) and a bonus Blu-ray. Each disc comes with a commentary track (assembled in 2002), and various bonuses: "In Their Own Voices," with behind-the-scenes footage, photos, and interviews; the 1994 documentary "You Can’t Do That: The Making of A Hard Day's Night"; the 2002 documentary "Things They Said Today"; Lester's early Oscar-winning short The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film (1960); "Picturewise," a program on Lester's early work; a 2014 "Anatomy of a Style"; and more. The set also includes a gorgeous booklet with photos, an essay, and an interview. Highly Recommended.

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