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Richard Lester
John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr
Alun Owen

The greatest rock & roll comedy adventure!
Not Rated.

Aspect Ratio: 1.75:1
English LPCM Monaural
English LPCM Stereo
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 87 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 6/24/2014

• Audio Commentary with Actors John Junkin, David Janson and Jeremy Lloyd, Cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, Associate Producer Denis O’Dell, Second AD Barrie Melrose, and Assistant Editors Pamela Tomling and Roy Benson
• “In Their Own Voices” Featurette
• “You Can’t Do That: The Making of A Hard Day’s Night” Documentary
• “Anatomy of a Style” Featurette
• “Things They Said Today” Documentary
The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film
• “Picturewise” Featurette
• “The Road to A Hard Day’s Night” Featurette
• Trailers

• Booklet


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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A Hard Day's Night [Criterion Collection] [Blu-Ray] (1964)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 28, 2014)

At times like these, I revisit my internal 12-year-old. Back during my early adolescence in the late Seventies, I became a major Beatles fan. In fact, I rarely listened to anything other than the Fabs - solo or as a group - for the two years between the spring of 1979 and the spring of 1981; I then discovered the Stones and broadened my musical horizons.

Kids these days don’t appreciate what we needed to do to enjoy filmed performances of our faves. Home video hadn’t erupted just yet, so we were stuck with the occasional revival of a flick at a local indie theater.

Eventually I saw most of the Beatles’ movies this way. Yellow Submarine and Help! briefly hit the midnight circuit, so they weren’t too tough. Magical Mystery Tour ran once at a DC art house, and my fellow Beatle-loving friend Billy Hunt and I trekked into town one afternoon to see that misbegotten project.

Let It Be took more perseverance. Actually, my only chance to take in a showing happened in the summer of 1980. My family went to Minnesota for my grandparents’ 50th anniversary celebration, and a local drive-in offered a triple-feature with The Buddy Holly Story, FM, and Let It Be.

I didn’t care about the other two, so of course the theater planned to run Let It Be last. My Dad and I sat through all these other movies before I finally got to see the Beatles flick, and even then matters weren’t simple. A nasty summer hailstorm ran through the area during the showing, so I never did get to finish the screening; the theater pulled the print as the tiny bits of ice beat down upon us.

I never took in 1964’s A Hard Day’s Night until home video became more popular. Actually, I don’t recall exactly when I initially watched Night, but I know it occurred after my early Beatles passion dissipated. I’ve maintained my love for the band across the last 35 years, but my ardor will never replicate those old feelings, so Night will never create the same impact it would have had in 1979 or 1980.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t really like the flick, though. Night maintains a reputation as the Beatles’ best movie, and it deserves it. After 50 years, Night remains a lively and compelling piece of work.

Night features a plot that can be described as “thin” at best, as it simply purports to display a day in the life of the Beatles. Slated to make an important TV appearance, the boys feel weighed down by all their responsibilities and constantly try to get away for a break. However, manager Norm (Norman Rossington) and his assistant Shake (John Junkin) always wrangle them back into the fold.

To complicate matters, Paul’s grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell) gets foisted upon the Cute One. A sneering troublemaker, the old man acts as a monkey wrench and causes many problems for the band and their handlers.

Basically, Night alternates between random escapades and musical numbers. The Fabs take a train ride and meet some young birds. They go to a dance party. They hold court at a press conference.

None of these exist to further the plot because there really is no plot. The movie climaxes with a desperate hunt to get Ringo out of jail in time for the TV show, but otherwise, the movie exists largely as a group of loosely connected vignettes.

That may sound like a flaw, but it really isn’t. If forced to choose a complaint about Night, it’d relate to the integration of the musical numbers. Though some pop up fairly naturally, usually they come out of nowhere.

That abruptness can seem jarring, but it doesn’t actively harm the film. The dance party scene works worst of the bunch, as it really feels like filler.

It helps that the songs are uniformly excellent. Though I love all stages of the Beatles’ career, I feel a particular fondness toward their early work. Those songs offered a bright energy and honesty that became somewhat lost during the more experimental material from later years. To be sure, this isn’t a criticism of the more ambitious tracks, but I love the clarity and freshness of the first few years.

Night stands as the band’s best work from that period. The first album comprised totally of Lennon/McCartney songs, it includes not a single weak number, and many of the tunes remain absolute classics.

If forced to choose the best of the bunch, I’d go with John’s stunning ballad, “If I Fell”. Love songs rarely achieve its level of warmth without any sense of sappiness. It really doesn’t get much better than “Fell”, and I think that Night likely offers the greatest soundtrack album of all-time.

Even without all those wonderful tunes, Night would offer a terrific experience. In addition to a bright, clever and peppy script from Alun Owen - a fellow Liverpudlian who nicely connected with the band’s natural sense of humor - Night enjoys crisp and irreverent direction from American expatriate Richard Lester. Not just some hack, Lester gives the movie its sense of brisk energy and he grounds its tone of flippant silliness.

Much of the movie shows the Beatles’ antipathy toward the staid establishment, but this never comes across as snotty or gratuitous. For an example of the latter, look at something like the atrocious Harold and Maude, an anti-establishment movie that denounces rules solely due to a hippie sense of entitlement.

In Night, the Beatles earn their attitude. The film establishes the haughty snideness that the Fabs experienced daily, and it wasn’t strictly generational. Authority figures generally treated the boys as a commodity and saw them as almost sub-human, an attitude aptly displayed when George inadvertently ends up in a meeting with a snide ad executive. While fun and lively, Night provides some depth as it depicts the negativity often aimed at the band.

Night also succeeds due to the remarkably natural performances by the Beatles. Granted, one might think it can’t be too tough to play yourself, but in truth, the Beatles represented here are exaggerated versions of the Fabs.

In any case, they still needed to deliver lines and put on performances, and they generally did quite well. Ringo received the highest praise, largely because his character displayed the most emotional depth. However, I think I most like George here, as he offers many of the film’s highlights. I love the scene at the ad agency, as George wonderfully deflates the arrogant pitchman.

Of the four Fabs, only Paul comes across as somewhat weak. Paul always was the most showbiz-minded Beatle, and he simply tries too hard to “act”, whereas the others relaxed and didn’t take matters too seriously. Paul does decently in the film, but he stands out as somewhat forced, which is probably why he receives less screentime than the others; I can actively think of good moments from the other three, but I can’t recall a single standout piece from Paul.

Night also enjoys a terrific supporting cast. While all do well, Brambell sticks out for his delightfully abrasive performance as Paul’s grandfather. Brambell may create the least lovable and sentimental old man ever filmed, as he turns his character into a hard-edged and sneering presence. All he does throughout the movie is create problems for the others, but he does so with such a gleeful sense of malice that I like him anyway. (As an aside, it’s shocking to realize that Brambell was only 52 when he shot Night; he’s clearly supposed to be in his seventies, and he looks it.)

A Hard Day’s Night may not offer a perfect film, but I can’t think of a better flick in the genre. Probably the best rock movie ever made, it remains bright and funny after 50 years. This one’s pure fun, and the music ain’t too bad either.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B/ Bonus B+

A Hard Day’s Night appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.75:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Expect a yerrific transfer.

For the most part, sharpness appeared great. Although a few shots displayed a smidgen of softness, the majority offered nice clarity and delineation. Any softness stemmed from the style of photography, and even then, the movie remained pretty tight. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I saw no edge haloes.

Print flaws caused no distractions, as the movie showed no specks, marks or other defects. I detected no signs of digital noise reduction, as the film boasted nice, natural grain, and blacks were strong; dark tones demonstrated solid depth. Shadows were also positive, and the film showed a good sense of contrast, as it never appeared either too dark or too bright. The movie looked great.

In addition to the film’s original monaural soundtrack, the film came with a new DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack. Across both, dialogue tended to be a bit metallic but the lines were always intelligible and lacked edginess or notable problems. Effects felt about the same; they didn’t get a lot to do in this chatty affair, but they were reasonably accurate and concise.

Music became the most significant presence and sounded very good in both versions. As noted in the disc’s booklet, some songs showed a lower pitch compared to the original, as the use of some 25 frames per second photography occasionally wound up with this slight change. It’s slightly distracting to fans who know the source well, but it represents the movie as it ran theatrically.

Even with this lowering of pitch, the music sounded fine. The songs gave us nice clarity and accuracy, as they reproduced the original recordings in a satisfying manner.

Of course, the soundscapes differed, though music remained the biggest difference. The 5.1 track used the side and rear channels to involve the listener in the sings, and it did so well; the instrumentation spread around the room in a satisfying way.

Effects also opened up the setting in a moderate manner, as locations like the train broadened horizons a little. However, that was a less engaging aspect of the track when compared with the music; as I noted earlier, the film focused on dialogue and music, so the effects didn’t get a lot to do.

Which track did I prefer? I thought it was a toss-up, honestly. As a general rule, I prefer original mixes, and I’d probably stay with the mono audio for future viewings. However, the 5.1 version did have its appeal, largely due to the breadth of the music. That made the 5.1 track a more than viable option, even if I ultimately would go with the mono mix simply due to my own preferences.

How did the Blu-Ray compare with the Criterion DVD? Audio had a little more pep and warmth. There wasn’t a ton that the lossless material could do to improve the non-musical segments – they weren’t very well-recorded – but I still preferred the Blu-ray’s sound.

Similar thoughts greeted the visuals. The DVD looked pretty terrific given the format’s restrictions, but the Blu-ray was tighter and more natural. I don’t think it crushed the DVD, but it was an obvious improvement.

This release offers the same extras as the DVD along with a few others. We open with an audio commentary from actors John Junkin, David Janson and Jeremy Lloyd, cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, associate producer Denis O’Dell, second AD Barrie Melrose, and assistant editors Pamela Tomling and Roy Benson. The track used a mix of group sessions that got cobbled together into this edited piece. The program covers cast and performances, sets and locations, cinematography and editing, memories of the Beatles and other movie-related subjects.

With so many participants, the commentary occasionally becomes a bit scattered/overwhelming, and the information on display can tend toward the superficial side of the street since we don’t get the movie’s main movers/shakers. Still, the track does provide nice stories and thoughts about the production, so it deserves a listen; it may not be a great piece but it adds to our appreciation of the film.

To hear from the Fabs themselves, we go to the 18-minute, two-second In Their Own Voices. This mixes circa 1964 comments from the Beatles with behind the scenes footage and stills. While it’s too bad we don’t get more modern remarks from Paul or Ringo, this compilation gives us a nice collection of thoughts from the band.

In addition to reissue trailers from 2000 and 2014, we get a 1994 documentary called You Can’t Do That: The Making of A Hard Day’s Night. Hosted by Phil Collins, it runs one hour, two minutes and 10 seconds as it presents notes from film critic Roger Ebert, musicians Peter Noone, Micky Dolenz and Roger McGuinn, screenwriter Alun Owen, New Jersey fan club president Debbie Gendler, producer Walter Shenson, wardrobe designer Julie Harris, director Richard Lester, AMPAS Film Archives director Michael Friend and actors Victor Spinetti and Norman Rossington. The show looks at the film’s genesis and development, the screenplay and adapting the Beatles to the big screen, cast and performances, sets and locations, the movie’s title, music, the movie’s reception and legacy.

The program benefits from the inclusion of some primary participants like Lester, Shenson and Owen. That said, it never quite becomes a great documentary. It covers Night in a satisfactory manner but lacks true depth, as it always feels a little too simplistic and superficial. It’s an enjoyable show but it doesn’t excel.

Also found on the 2002 DVD, Things They Said Today provides a general documentary about the production. It runs 36 minutes and 17 seconds and features notes from former United Artists executive David Picker, music producer Sir George Martin, Beatles publicist Tony Barrow, actors Victor Spinetti, Lionel Blair, John Junkin, Jeremy Lloyd, Anna Quayle, and Terry Hooper, movie producer Walter Shenson, director Richard Lester, screenwriter Alun Owen, associate producer Denis O’Dell, musician and Beatles acquaintance Klaus Voorman, second assistant editor Roy Benson, hairdresser Betty Glasow, photographer Robert Freeman, tailor Gordon Millings, cameraman Paul Wilson, and director of photography Gilbert Taylor.

Phew! That’s a large roster of folks, but don’t expect equal participation from all of them. Some of the people pop up for only a line or two, while others provide more substantial participation. Of this crew, we hear the most from Lester, Shenson, and Picker. Overall, “Said” offers a fine overview of the production. We learn how the project came into existence and go through a myriad of aspects of the shoot. We get notes about the script, the locations, the additional cast, working with the Beatles, the music, the film’s reception, and many other elements. “Said” gives us a consistently entertaining and informative piece.

Under Anatomy of a Style, we hear from story editor/screenwriter Bobbie O’Steen and music editor Susana Peric. Over 17 minutes, seven seconds, they “deconstruct” five of the movie’s music scenes and give us insights into the methods used. Some of this tends toward praise, but a reasonable mix of details emerges.

Known as one of the reasons Richard Lester got the job as director for A Hard Day’s Night, 1959’s The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film lasts 11 minutes, 10 seconds. “Devised by Peter Sellers”, the short lacks dialogue and simply shows a few oddball characters as they do oddball things in a field.

I guess Running falls into the category of “you had to be there”. I suppose it was delightful and funny 55 years ago, but honestly, I can’t discern many charms. That said, it’s an important piece of Beatles-related history, so I’m glad to see it here.

With Picturewise, we find a discussion of Lester’s early work. The program goes for 27 minutes, 13 seconds and comes with narration from actor Rita Tushingham along with audio remarks from Lester himself. We get thoughts about influences, Lester’s films and how these manifest A Hard Day’s Night as well as info about the director’s post-1964 flicks. The show presents a fair number of interesting thoughts.

Author Mark Lewisohn chats during The Road to A Hard Day’s Night. During this 27-minute, 43-second piece, Lewisohn gives us some background on the background of the Beatles as well as their development pre-1964. Lewisohn knows his stuff and gives us an efficient overview.

Footnote: among many other Beates-based books, Lewisohn put out All These Years: Tune In in 2013. The first in a series of three volumes, Tune In presents an insanely ambitious look at the Beatles and delivers a terrific read. I feared a nearly 1000-page tome that ends in 1962 would become a tough slog, but instead, Tune In becomes fascinating from start to finish. I highly recommend it – and you can find a link to it on Amazon at the top of this page, he said with no shame.

Finally, a 10-page booklet concludes the set. It offers an essay from film critic Howard Hampton as well as photos and disc-related notes. It doesn’t become a great extra, but it adds value to the package.

Since I was negative-three-years-old when A Hard Day’s Night hit movie screens, I can’t fully appreciate the flick’s impact. However, when I watch this delightful and intelligent piece, it gives me as good an approximation of Beatlemania that I’ll ever get. After 50 years, Night remains a lively and witty film that continues to provide an enjoyable experience. The Blu-ray presents excellent picture, positive audio and an informative set of supplements. This becomes a terrific release for a delightful movie.

To rate this film, visit the original review of A HARD DAY'S NIGHT

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main