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(1964/2000) (The Beatles) (G)

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Musical/Comedy: The Beatles run into frenzied fans and various complications as they make their way to London for a live TV appearance.
It's the 1960s and the members of the Beatles -- John (JOHN LENNON), Paul (PAUL McCARTNEY), George (GEORGE HARRISON) and Ringo (RINGO STARR) - are on their way to London for a live TV performance. Traveling via train with their manager, Norm (NORMAN ROSSINGTON), and his assistant, Shake (JOHN JUNKIN), they meet Paul's grandfather (WILFRID BRAMBELL), a somewhat eccentric senior citizen who either causes or gets into trouble during the trip.

Arriving in London and trying to avoid their frenzied fans, the Fab Four spend the time before the telecast goofing off and partying, much to the chagrin of Norm and their show's TV director (VICTOR SPINETTI), all while playing or accompanying songs from their album, "A Hard Day's Night."

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
Although I was too young to enjoy the Beatles during their heyday, I do have somewhat of a special connection with them as I was born on the day they first appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and forever changed the world of music. While the rock and roll revolution was already around a decade old by then and the world had already witnessed the "scandalous" Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, the four "mop tops" offered a completely new look, sound and attitude when they invaded America.

They also injected a welcomed sense of fun and irreverence into a society still reeling from JFK's assassination some three months earlier. Not surprisingly, their singles and albums became big hits. Yet, back in the days before MTV, there were only a few ways of promoting bands and their offerings. Beyond radio and appearing live on TV variety shows or in person, there weren't many options, although film - that worked well for Elvis - seemed like the one good alternative.

As such, the Fab Four appeared in the feature-length "A Hard Day's Night," a radical (for the time), picture that showcased their youthful exuberance as well as the songs off their latest album of the same name. Released in 1964, the film also showed something that hadn't really been seen that often before - and that was something of a backstage look at the Beatles and how they acted when not performing or doing interviews (the only other way fans had seen them up to that point).

A commercial and critical hit, the film went on to garner two Oscar nominations - for Original Screenplay and Best Score - and is now being re-released with a newly restored print and soundtrack, just in time to coincide with the release of a new "greatest hits" compilation.

Of course, today's youth - with their obsession with Britney Spears, 'N Synch and other such teen-based acts - won't be impressed by the unexpected magnitude and seemingly rabid reaction that the Beatles initially caused once they landed on our shores.

Nonetheless, director Richard Lester (who went on to direct the Beatles again in "Help!" as well as films such as "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" and "Superman II") and writer Alun Owen ("The Concrete Jungle") managed to capture some of that hysteria in this film - that reportedly was in theaters just three scant months after filming began - with some in-jokes involving John, Paul, George and Ringo eluding the screaming, pursuant fans while in transit to various locales.

The film itself doesn't really have much more of a plot beyond that and some other bits about the four having to deal with Paul's troublemaking "grandfather" (played by Wilfrid Brambell who appeared in a number of films that few viewers today have probably ever heard of), their "mother hen" manager (Norman Rossington presumably playing a comic version of their real life manager Brian Epstein) and a nervous and agitated TV director (Victor Spinetti who's appeared in forty-some movies and TV shows) who's worried about their live performance that caps the film.

Other moments include what would become the four's well-known dry sense of humor and quick quips that probably played better to their fans in the '60s than today's viewers. It's certainly not the sort of material that one would associate with an Oscar nomination, but perhaps it was a slow year for writing in 1964.

Nevertheless, other moments - which are interspersed with all of that material - are what make the film so entertaining and enjoyable. They, of course, are the musical numbers, and many of the album's big hits - including the title track as well as "Can't Buy Me Love" and "Tell Me Why" - appear here in full aural force and time certainly hasn't diminished their effect on the listener and/or viewer.

In a time when musicals were really just filmed extensions of their Broadway predecessors, Lester's approach at showcasing the songs - beyond the standard concert type performance that closes the show - was something few had seen before. Rather than having the characters stop what they were doing and suddenly breaking into song, the film has the characters often just goofing around as the their songs play. While that's common in today's music videos where the onscreen actions occasionally have nothing to do the lyrics of any given song, it was a novel departure from the norm during the '60s and certainly paved the way for those music videos that would follow some two decades later.

In doing so, Lester captured the Fab Four in their more innocent and innocuous state of mind - before they and their music became too serious - and the effect is probably just about as much fun to behold today as it was when the film debuted. While the film - beyond the musical numbers - isn't anything special and the acting performances - other than the Beatles scripted shenanigans - are a bit strained if occasionally somewhat surreal, the film is still entertaining and certainly easy to watch, especially if you have anything more than a passing interest in the band during their early days of worldwide fame. "A Hard Day's Night" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed November 28, 2000 / Posted December 8, 2000

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