When I first got into The Beatles in early ’85 I found out they had made four films (A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, Magical Mystery Tour and Let It Be) that they had appeared in, I was already aware of “Yellow Submarine” as it was always on TV, but the others never were. Elvis and Cliff films were always on the TV and I thought, “well Beatle films will be on one day too”.
If I had been waiting for A Hard Days Night & Help! I would have had to wait until 1992 (when McCartney was 50), Magical Mystery Tour was shown this year (2012) for the first time since 1979 and Let It Be hasn’t been shown since 1981, it was never released on video and up to now hasn’t been released on DVD.
When Beatlemania broke in 1963 Brian Epstein signed them up to make a cheap black and white film (as no one knew how long the group would last), a sort of a day in the life of The Beatles so to speak, Alun Owen wrote the screenplay and Richard Lester directed. Lennon was a big fan of “The Running, Jumping & Standing Still Film” made in 1960 starring Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers by Lester and so when they were contracted to make a film, his name was at the top of the list to direct.
Lester directed it with great panache throwing everything at it, so much so that he created the techniques of music videos to come and made the Cliff & Elvis films I mentioned earlier ‘old hat’ overnight.
Added to this Alun Owen’s fantastic screenplay (the novelisation is the first novel in the English language to contain the word ‘Grotty’) and you had a sort of Marx Brothers for the 60s, even Leslie Halliwell said “The Beatles even seemed likable” and awarded the film **** (“Bonnie & Clyde” was the only film made after “A Hard Day’s Night” that was awarded **** in Halliwell’s lifetime).
The Beatles hadn’t broke America when the filming started, but had when the film was released and UA weren’t that bothered about the film because they thought they’d make more money on sales of the record, it however smashed box office records and UA executives shouldn’t have been worried about the scouse accents which they wanted to dub.
Wilfred Brambell appeared in the film as Paul’s grandfather, he was a big star in the BBC comedy “Steptoe & Son” where he played a rag and bone man constantly referred to as “You dirty old man” by his son. In “A Hard Day’s Night” he is constantly told “He’s very clean”, this may be lost on today’s audiences.
The film remains a hugely enjoyable one. Lester went on to direct the Beatles again in the big budget follow up “Help!” which has more of a story, but isn’t quite as good. For the rest of the 60s he directed one of Roof Dirk’s favourite’s “The Knack And How To Get It” (winner of the Palme d’Or), “How I Won The War” (starring John Lennon and referenced in “A Day In The Life”, “I saw a film today, oh boy, the English army had just won the war”) and a film I would love to see “Petulia” starring Julie Christie, another one of Danny Peary’s Cult Movies which is now available on dvd.
As for The Beatles, well “Magical Mystery Tour” flopped on the BBC on Boxing Day 1967, but has since been reappraised as preempting Monty Python to come, so to speak. The documentary “Let It Be”, was fraught with tension whilst they were making it and it shows. Paul & Ringo don’t think The Beatles should be shown in a negative light, so it may never again see the light of day, although a DVD release date has been pencilled in for next year. However, Beatle fans know we have been pencilling a release date in for the past 30 years and so it keeps making more and more money for the bootleggers!
I suppose that the biggest surprise was that Ringo Starr could act and due to this he took the major role in “Help!” and “Magical Mystery Tour” and well as taking the lead in “The Magic Christian” starring Peter Sellers, “Candy” starring Marlon Brando, “That’ll Be The Day” starring David Essex, “Born To Boogie” starring Marc Bolan, “200 Motels” starring Frank Zappa and “Caveman” starring former Bond girl, Barbara Bach, he went on to marry her!
Writing this has reminded me of Paul’s only acting venture out of The Beatles, “Give My Regards To Broad Street”. Now the film got pretty panned, although Halliwell gave it * in his Film Guide, but I was quite excited about its release. It featured McCartney’s best song of the 80s “No More Lonely Nights” (I got Now 4 (yes it was one of the ones with the pigs on) for Xmas 84, but was disappointed it included some new dace remix version, rather than the original) and his re-workings of Beatle favourites plus it featured Ringo Starr. It also featured Martin Ruane as a bouncer. Now in the early 80s my sister was obsessed with Wrestling, not WWF, but WOS (World Of Sport) and soon as she found out that Martin Ruane (under his stage name Luke McMasters AKA Giant Haystacks) was in it, she was watching it all the time, every time I would come downstairs it was on! Over the past 28 years McCartney has distanced himself from it and so you won’t find it on DVD, but it always reminds me of Giant Haystacks, so happy memories!