Author: Ray Morton
This small and concise book opens up new and fresh details for any fans of The Beatles. On reading the introduction and the set-up in the first chapter, ‘Meet the Beatles’ (each chapter is a pun on Beatles lyrics and songs) the reader could be forgiven for thinking that there is little new information that can be said on the band. This first chapter just gives a potted history of the band from their beginnings through to Beatlemania and the making of the film and how it came about. The second chapter, ‘They’re Gonna Put Me in the Movies’ analyses how those in the film business were eyeing an opportunity to exploit the band like everyone else. Previous successes in the youth market had seen Hollywood made a star out of Elvis Presley and how he eventually became a recycled star. In Britain too the likes of Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard were making low budget, colourful and song laden films for the new youth culture. Previous to A Hard Day’s Night most of these films were more like Cliff’s The Young Ones (1961) with kids trying to put on a show; this was the usual lazy storyline for the teen market and their fans, but for The Beatles it would turn out to be very different. Just as the band had made changes to the music industry it seemed they were to re-write the way musicals and in particular youth musicals were to be presented.
As the following chapters set out American producer for United Artists Walter Shenson wanted to make the film on a low budget as making a film about a band that had not as yet conquered America was a risk. By the time the project was under way The Beatles had not as yet broken into the America market and had no hits over there as yet; they had barely even toured Europe, but they were already huge in Britain and Beatlemania was well under way. American director settled in Britain Richard Lester was brought in to direct. He had already made a surreal short film with Spike Milligan, The Running, Jumping, Standing Still Film and It’s Trad Dad. Elements from both these films were to appear in A Hard Day’s Night. Liverpudlian playwright Alun Owen was brought in to write the script and he decided to travel with the band to pick up some ideas. He travelled with them on their first Swedish and a French tour at the end of 1963 and the start of 1964. It was apparent to Owen that The Beatles lived in a bubble: airport lounges, planes, hotels and stage and that was about it. Their claustrophobic world would become the basis for his script and the wit came directly from the charm of the boys and they themselves would provide the inspiration. Between Owen and Lester they created ideals to their characters: George was the sardonic one, Paul the charmer, John the cynic and Ringo the loveable fool picked on by the others. This also became the impression to the public.
The next couple of chapters begins by tracing Owen’s script development and as previously mentioned how inspiration came easy to him along with the development of the characters. Lester and Owen found working with The Beatles was easy and at least most of them were at ease with not just playing themselves but in acting generally; only Paul McCartney was trying too hard to act properly and looks and feels uncomfortable which didn’t go unnoticed by Lester. In Chapter four, ‘Roll on Up’ (yet another Beatles joke at a chapter title), Morton looks at the credit role for the film and the previous work of those involved. While all the preparations were being made The Beatles had conquered America with a string of hits, a mini tour of the Eastern Seaboard and major TV appearances making the group a much greater bankable commodity.
But it is the next chapter (‘A Hard Month’s Shoot’) which is the most interesting. This is a day by day breakdown off the shooting schedule in sometimes nothing more than a paragraph outlining what scene was filmed that day with the odd one or two quotes and some of the problems with and the shortcuts or techniques taken with the shooting schedule. Like Beatle chronicler Mark Lewisohn’s book, ‘The Complete Beatles’ each day is recorded making for an interesting outline of the schedule, the way films are sometimes made (it was made on a fairly tight budget) as well as appealing to Beatle fans (like myself) always after new nuggets of information. This is also the longest chapter in the book and covers the entire shoot.
The rest of the book follows the standard format of following the films success and its influences and how it changed pop cinema as the 60s entered into swinging 60s. There is also a brief biog of the group after the film, as well as the band’s other films for those who might need a breakdown. This is a small pocket book and at first I have to admit to being fairly cynical (as a Beatles fan) that I was going to learn anything new, but I must say it does for the most part stay focused on the film rather than on the group and Beatlemania. The book is smattered with a few glossy colour photos in the middle of the book. I’m not so sure some of them add much to the book, but there are a few production stills I have not seen before. To add my own cheesy Beatles related conclusion to the book some of the book provided a good ‘day in the life’ of a band that were also moving into the movies and did so with some success.