An absolutely beautiful 50th anniversary restoration of “A Hard Day’s Night” is now available on a Criterion Collection DVD. This groundbreaking ultra-freewheeling and free-spirited 1964 film, photographed in lusciously timeless black-and-white, brought the Beatles to the big screen and provided the genesis for the music video. John, Paul, George and Ringo playfully run from screaming fans, torment their handlers (Norman Rossington, John Junkin) and confound a TV director (Victor Spinetti) is this iconic must-see romp depicting a fictional day in the hectic life of the Fab Four.
The rock-and-roll band light up the screen with an infectious energy and charm that is also very funny, particularly in the opening train sequence. Their fresh faced Marx Brothers-like tomfoolery defies boundaries and Ringo’s enormous smile when at his drums sums up the joy they find in their music. The terrific songs have a fun, easy going nature that still packs all the punch of classic rock-and-roll. And marvelous Irish actor Wilfrid Brambell nearly steals the entire movie as Paul’s very clean little old man grandfather. His constantly mischievous looking and sometimes menacing face alone is a sight to behold.
A first class bonus feature on the DVD is the fascinating 1994 making of documentary “You Can’t Do That.” Music artist Phil Collins, who was also a boyhood extra in the film, hosts this look at how the “noisy nuisance” foursome became the stars of what film critic Andrew Sarris called “the ‘Citizen Kane’ of jukebox musicals.” Cast and crew members, musicians, fans and even Roger Ebert are featured in interview clips in this documentary aptly titled from a song cut from the finished feature.
Producer Walter Shenson tells of United Artists requesting that he make a Beatles film so that they could release a soundtrack album. Screenwriter Alun Owen talks of living with the Beatles and discovering that they were “prisoners of their success” with no time to enjoy anything. He then fashioned his screenplay on the idea of them trying to break free for a little while. Director Richard Lester also describes how he managed an artistic shot of Paul that Hollywood thought was a mistake.
Other bonus features include a scholarly printed essay by critic Howard Hampton, a commentary track, and the 18-minute documentary “In Their Own Voices.” It features audio interview clips with stills and behind the scenes video. You’ll hear the Beatles talking about their initial nervousness on camera, difficulty with written lines, and how success didn’t change how they played but kept them from worrying about bus fare. It’s a must-see package for movie and music fans alike.