Hard Day's Night, A [1964]

The Fab Four from Liverpool--John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr--in their first movie. Nobody expected A Hard Day's Night to be much more than a quick exploitation of a passing musical fad, but when the film opened it immediately seduced the world--even the stuffiest critics fell over themselves in praise (highbrow Dwight Macdonald called it "not only a gay, spontaneous, inventive comedy but it is also as good cinema as I have seen for a long time"). Wisely, screenwriter Alun Owen based his script on the Beatles' actual celebrity at the time, catching them in the delirious early rush of Beatlemania: eluding rampaging fans, killing time on trains and in hotels, appearing on a TV broadcast. American director Richard Lester, influenced by the freestyle French New Wave and British Goon Show humor, whips up a delightfully upbeat circus of perpetual motion. From the opening scene of the mop tops rushing through a train station mobbed by fans, the movie rarely stops for air. Some of the songs are straightforwardly presented, but others ("Can't Buy Me Love," set to the foursome gamboling around an empty field) soar with ingenuity. Above all, the Beatles express their irresistible personalities: droll, deadpan, infectiously cheeky. Better examples of pure cinematic joy are few and far between. --Robert Horton

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