Beatlemania. We’ve all read about it and it was without doubt a phenomenon. Yes there had been mass adoration for the likes of Elvis and er, Bill Haley, but this was different, this was off the scale.
As was the way back then, if a ‘pop performer’ was proving popular, the movie industry would quickly knock up a cheap, cheesy film around the subject and bung it out quick to cash in whilst the going was good. ‘The Tommy Steele Story’ and ‘Expresso Bongo featuring Cliff Richard for example.
So when The Beatles began to dominate the airwaves with their insanely clever, catchy songs and undeniable talent, there was a constant demand of getting ‘the boys’ as manager Brian Epstein called them, onto a film set.
The band was already globally known, with 70 million viewers having seen them on the Ed Sullivan TV how in the States in Feb 1964. As a result, an insatiable demand for more grew, and needed feeding.
The result, the film ‘A Hard Days Night’, was different to what had gone before. This put many a critic on the back foot, with its clever, smart script, dialogue and the charisma of the Fabs themselves proving to be an undeniably winning combination.
Then add in the songs, and this package was dynamite!
‘You’re a swine’
Filmed in Black and white, with a docu-drama feel, the storyline followed the four members of the band and their entourage in a typical, if such a thing existed, day in their life. Actor Norman Rossington played their manager Norm, and they did as much as possible to defy his control of them.
Train, car, hotel, nightclub, TV studio, theatre, playing field, and then back again. Or as John put it, when asked about his recent visit to Stockholm- ‘It was lovely,’ he said. ‘It was a car, and a room, and a stage, and a cheese sandwich.’
The title of the film, originally to be called ‘Beatlemania’, came from one of drummer Ringos famous ‘Ringo – isms’ and resulted in a song by Lennon and McCartney written overnight. Other songs featured included ‘She Loves You’ Happy Just To Dance With You’ ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ ‘and I Love Her.
The Director of choice was American Richard Lester, who’s work such as the 11 minute short film ‘The Running Jumping and Standing Still Film’ featuring Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers was a band favourite.
‘We were the sons of The Goons’ – John Lennon
The script was by Liverpulian Alun Owen, again someone the band were aware of. Owen spent time with them and picked up beautifully the irreverent natural humour of the band.
“She looks more like him than I do”.
The shoot was quick. With a budget of just $500,000 and only seven weeks allotted for filming and four months in total to shoot, edit and then deliver, Lester had to move fast. That pace helped keep everyone on their toes and prevented the Beatles getting bored with the job in hand.
From the opening scene at Marylebone railway station, showing the band besieged by their adoring fans, we are off on a rollercoaster ride that grabs you by the throat and rarely lets go.
‘Don’t take that tone with me young man. I fought a war for your sort.’ – ‘I bet you’re sorry you won’
There is a superb supporting cast of familiar British performers popping up throughout with the likes of John Junkin, Wilfred Bramble, Victor Spinetti, Anna Quayle and Lionel Blair all putting in a shift.
‘Stop being taller than me!’’
Famously George Harrison met his future wife Patti Boyd, playing a schoolgirl on set, and she appears in the baggage car scene featuring ‘I Should Have Known Better.’
‘Aye, aye. The Liverpool shuffle’
The footage of the fans – including a teenage Phil Collins – at the concert at the end, filmed at the old Scala Theatre on Charlotte Street in London, captures the mania around the band of that period. Everyone looks a total emotional wreck, caught up in the tidal wave of music coming off the stage.
‘We know how to behave. We’ve had lessons’
The premiere was held at The Pavilion Theatre, near Piccadilly Circus in early July 1964 and the soundtrack album was released four days later. It immediately set attendance records around the UK. It was often reported, that people would spend all day in the cinema, watching the film over and over again. Takings were nearly $6 million in just six weeks. By 1971 the film was estimated to have earned $11 million worldwide.
‘Sorry we hurt your field mister’
The films influence was felt almost immediately upon release and spin offs included ‘The Monkees’ TV show and it laid the path for the music video industry in years to come.
Watching the film today, you cant help but feel a rush of the excitement as that famous opening chord strikes and the film gets under way. It has not dated, and it has stood the test of time.
Much like the band themselves.
The Mumper of SE5