Walter Shenson, the producer of A Hard Day’s Night, once said he knew he had a hit after he screened the movie for his mother. She predicted that it would be a big success. Puzzled, he asked her why she felt that way, figuring she was not likely to be enamored of the wild music.
She said (she said) she felt that way because it was obvious that John, Paul, George and Ringo were having so much fun making the movie that audiences were bound to get a kick out of the film, too. Smart lady.
I’ve always felt that that was the underlying reason for the movie’s great success. We identified with The Batles. We wanted to hang out with them because they were having a ball, winking and smirking at the establishment and basically doing whatever the hell we wanted. The Beatles thumbed their collective noses that their manager, their producer, the police, the fans. Everyone. And they got away with all of it.
A Hard Day’s Night is marking its 50th anniversary of release today. This milestone is not quite as galvanizing as the 50th anniversary of the band’s first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, which took place on Feb. 9, 1964. Earlier this year, ratings-savvy CBS hosted a gala TV show to mark the big occasion.
I don’t see anything like that being held for A Hard Day’s Night — even though the movie was arguably just about as important as the Sullivan show in terms of cementing The Beatles’ popularity in the U.S. I know — the TV show was seen by 73 million people. It was the most significant event in the group’s history in the U.S.
But the success of the movie did wonders for The Beatles’ image. Bands as distinctive as The Grateful Dead and The Byrds have credited the movie with pointing them in the direction of rock and roll.
Plus, thanks to the fans’ embrace of the movie, the group’s first U.S. tour, which began the following month, was guaranteed tone a huge success (I know — it would have anyway, most likely). A Hard Day’s Night also paved the way for the burst of rock and roll movies hat followed. Bob Dylan might not have agreed to let D.A. Pennebaker follow him around the British Isles the following year, if not for the popularity of A Hard Day’s Night.
The movie changed the world. And that’s saying a lot. After its release, teenagers started talking, dressing and living differently than they had. Scores of rock and roll bands were formed the day after aspiring musicians saw the movie. The “youth market” became an obsession and made previous endeavors like Bye Bye Birdie and West Side Story look like trial runs by comparison.
John Lennon’s absurd quips (“Turn left at Greenland”) became acceptable humor, which influences a generation of Hollywood writers. People started toy think and talk differently.
My favorite moment form the film captures the independent spirit of JPG&R. It takes place on a train. Ringo turns up the volume on his transistor radio. When a much older gent hears this blaring rock and roll, he switches it off and reproofs Ringo by saying, “I fought the war for your kind.”
To which Ringo, speaking for everyone born after 1945, shoots back: “I bet you’re sorry you won.”