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A HARD DAY'S NIGHT

Review by Mark Wiechman

Stars: The Beatles, Wilfrid Brambell, Norman Rossington, Victor Spinetti
Director: Richard Lester
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1,  Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Miramax
Features: See Review
Length:  92 Minutes
Release Date: September 24, 2002

REPORTER:  How did you find America?

JOHN LENNON:  Turn left at Greenland.

Film ***

It was the good fortune of rock music that its two most innovative composers and singers would meet as young men in Liverpool, England.  There has been no artist or group of artists before or since that has been more successful or had as great an impact on the history of music, and in our lifetimes there may not be another such artist.  It is an eerie coincidence that the director's cut of "Amadeus" was released the same day as this DVD (thus a viewer can see one of the few artists even more gifted that the Beatles the same day), but the Beatles are no strangers to coincidences.  Besides the fortuitous meeting of young John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the first Beatles album was released in the U.S. on November 22, 1963--the day JFK was shot.  And according to an interview (part of the extra features of the film) the producer of this movie agreed to a three-picture deal with the Beatles even though he had never heard a note of their music, nor did he even know who they were until he signed them to the deal.  This is just one of the many bits of trivia relished by Beatles worshippers that comes to light in the interviews and hours of other special features on this special edition of A Hard Day’s Night.

TRIVIA QUESTION:  Which Beatle met his future first wife on the set of this movie and what was her maiden name?

The soundtrack is definitely the most important feature of the movie, since it was the first album containing only Beatles compositions, many of them timeless gems.  It also wraps up their earlier period before experimentation with music and drugs changed their lives forever.

Of the five Beatles films, this one is definitely the best.  Help! and Magical Mystery Tour are just silly, whereas this film is silly, but also very funny and entertaining.  I have never seen Yellow Submarine nor Let It Be (few souls have) and the latter may never be released on DVD because it essentially shows the Beatles breaking up.  This film shows them in their young happy glory, as we would want to remember them.  Certainly not trying to be anything more than a fun time with the band, the film is short, fast-paced, and filled with music.  The plot essentially revolves around the boys traveling to and getting ready for a TV performance, with Paul's conniving grandfather coming along and getting himself and the boys into trouble, climaxing with his convincing argument that Ringo does not deserve to be teased so much by the others and that they would be nothing without him.  Ringo deserts the gig; will he make it back to the studio in time for the performance?   I won't give away the ending of course...

However, I did notice some interesting undercurrents in the film.  While backstage between rehearsals, an actress approaches John and says "Are you him?"  The ensuing conversation is a scream, but I find it peculiar that she does not actually say his name, as if he were some nameless deity or as though he was just "one of them."  This latter term is used when an attractive receptionist asks George to come look at shirts which they want to sell to the younger generation.  Again, no one even addresses George by name.  Also, the boys are never allowed to hang around with women much, even at a party a reporter grabs Paul away and asks him the same questions he has heard a thousand times.  The film shows the fun and excitement of being a Beatle but also the isolation and long hours away from simple pleasures, which most Beatles fans know wore the band down very quickly.  They cannot go anywhere without crowds chasing them, which certainly got old very quickly.

Video ***

The anamorphic widescreen transfer is in black and white, of course.  There are some speckles here and there due to age, but not bad.  Overall, the blacks are deep and pure and the whites are clean, with generally good definition and sharpness.

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix does not seem to use the rear speakers much at all, and in the film itself a few of the songs are played at a slower speed than on the album, which makes them sound a bit muddy.  The Beatles themselves seemed to have known this from the way that John gestures to Ringo to speed it up during "If I Fell," which of course Ringo cannot do because they are miming to a tape played too slowly.   But again, this can be excused for the lack of better technology at the time.

Features ****

These alone are worth the price of the DVD.  There are interviews with Sir George Martin and practically everyone who had a part in the film or was a technician/makeup artist, etc. and is a treasure trove for any Beatles fan.  My only criticism is that you can only watch one at a time, unlike some discs which have a "view all" feature.  The DVD-ROM features are excellent and include a script viewer which allows you to watch a smaller screen version of the film and read along with either a typed script with handwritten notes or a more final typed version.  There is even a third version which you can access on the internet.  Interestingly, some of the better scenes had no script, such as John playing in the tub and faking his descent into the drain.

TRIVIA ANSWER:  Patti Boyd and George Harrison met on this film set.

Summary:

This is the perfect snapshot of the greatest rock band ever in their early untarnished glory.  If you are not already a Beatlemaniac, this film and its music may make you one.