The mischievous, semi-surreal jokes of A Hard Day's Night — like George's response to the journalist who asks what he calls that hairstyle he's wearing—have become legends unto themselves. (George calls his hairdo "Arthur.") There was a brief time when everyone loved the Beatles, finding them agreeable and charming and cheekily nonthreatening. But there's real danger, all right, in their music, and the numbers in A Hard Day's Night — filmed by the watchful, clever cinematographer Gilbert Taylor — are the most gently seductive ever put on film. The boys captivate the young schoolgirl played by Patti Boyd—later to become Mrs. George Harrison — with a magically impromptu performance of "I Should Have Known Better" in a train carriage, the song's myriad boy-meets-girl questions wedged between the hands of a card game. But it's in the final cluster of songs, an artful melding of "Tell Me Why," "If I Fell," and "I Should Have Known Better," where Lester truly tips his hand. He knows what this movie is about, and he knows who it's for. And if the Beatles have never looked as beautiful as they do in this performance sequence—beautiful even, or especially, dusted with the faintest dew of sweat, visible in Taylor's tight close-ups —they're at least matched by the plaintive, surrendering beauty of the girls screaming and crying over them.

One of those girls, a blonde with a round, heartbreakingly readable face, touched Lester deeply. He would later refer to her as the "white rabbit," and the camera finds its way back to her over and over, because it just can't stay away. Her face is tear streaked; she can't believe what she's seeing, she can't stand it even just one more moment, but she wouldn't be anywhere else in the world. She mouths George's name, a mute prayer.

Critics' Pick Critics' Pick

Location Info


Film Forum

209 W. Houston St.
New York, NY 10014

Category: Movie Theaters

Region: Greenwich Village


A Hard Day's Night
Directed by Richard Lester
Janus Films
Opens July 4
Film Forum (209 W. Houston St.)

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I know nothing about this girl, who, I presume and hope, grew up to be a woman. But I can't help superimposing her experience of this moment, of this band, onto mine. Did we get the life the Beatles promised us—at no small cost to themselves — of love and despair, heartbreak and elation, disappointment and exuberance? I want to ask her, as I ask myself, now on the far side of the beginning of everything, Was it all you hoped it would be? No. Absolutely not. And yes, a thousand times over.

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Very enjoyable review. Agree entirely. 

Just caught the re-release at the BFI/NFT last night. Hadn't seen it for years and it was a pleasure to be reminded of what an excellent job Lester did.

Quick point re the review (slightly pedantic). The story starts at Liverpool Lime Street station as the boys are heading to a telly studio in London -- not a filming in Liverpool. Granted, it's not hugely obvious, but note the 'Metropolitan Police' sign on the cop shop during the scene when Ringo is 'rescued' from the rozzers. Not only that, but I doubt whether there would have been telly studios in The 'Pool in 1964 (cue a stream of angry Scouse abuse to put me right ...)


What a beautiful review. Very inspiring for the rest of us.


Beautiful, Stephanie. Just Beautiful.


Happy white people doing happy white things

(thank God Don't Look Back appeared a year later so rock could grow up)


@Binkconn It's because it was filmed before rock "grew up" and took itself seriously that makes HDN such a consummate masterpiece AND so damned enjoyable. 


@Binkconn If growing up is being you, comparing the two films and not appreciating the gorgeous, insightful writing here, who would ever want to grow up? Oh yeah, aside from this brilliant exegesis of A Hard Day's Night, it's also-thank God- missing a key, insufferable aspect of Don't Look Back: Bobby Fucking Neuwirth. Awfully self -important for a guitar carrying lackey, dontcha think? I'll take John Lennon, thank you. 


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