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The Beatles’ film, A Hard Day’s Night — their album’s namesake — airs from 3:05pm on BBC Two, allowing audiences to relive the cherished British flick from 1964. The musical comedy follows John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr as they set off for London. Their plans, however, are thrown into doubt after one of the band meets his long-lost grandfather. And while the film garnered two Academy Awards nods — and was voted as the 88th greatest British film of the 20th century by the British Film Institute — unearthed accounts show what the band really thought of the feature.
Among the tracks on A Hard Day’s Night include Tell Me Why, She Loves You, Can’t Buy Me Love and All My Loving, creating with it an Oscar nomination for Best Score, an award that eventually went to André Previn for My Fair Lady.
Commercial and critical acclaim followed, with Time magazine calling the film “one of the smoothest, freshest, funniest films ever made for purposes of exploitation”. Meanwhile, celebrated critic Roger Ebert labelled it among the “great life-affirming landmarks of the movies”.
Despite its appeal, the band themselves were reportedly hugely embarrassed by the film, with only Harrison watching it, unearthed accounts show.
The film was made to cash in on the worldwide ‘Beatlemania’ craze that saw millions across the globe become obsessed with the Liverpauldlian four-piece.
McCartney, who would enjoy further success after the group split in 1970 with Wings and as a solo artist, noted that while they had fun making the film itself, any ambitions to become actors were quickly put to bed.
According to Ashley Khan’s 2020 book George Harrison on George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters, McCartney said: “The first film we ever made, and we’re having a good time.
“We’re not very good actors, but we’re trying hard. That’s the most important thing, really — having a try, isn’t it?”
The filming process, McCartney noted, wasn’t taken very seriously, and many of the group left it until the actual take to learn their lines. Among the worst offenders was Harrison.
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McCartney explained: “I normally learn them about 10 minutes before we do the scene, actually. I feel it gives an air of impromptu-ity.”
But when it came to watching the film, three-quarters of the group couldn’t, the band’s press officer Derek Taylor said in a 1964 article for Cosmopolitan.
He said: “A Hard Day’s Night is doing very well and they’re making another. They’re very proud of their first film and the good reviews, but actually looking at it embarrasses them.”
The first to walk out from the screening, Taylor said, was Lennon. Just under 90 minutes later, and Harrison was the only one left.
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Taylor noted: “The first time John saw it, he said, ‘I can’t stand this lot,’ and rushed out. By the concert scene at the end, all but George had left.”
Some claim it was because Harrison was in actual fact the best actor of the four. That was the verdict of the film’s directors Richard Lester and Stephen Soderberg.
Lester told The Guardian: “Ringo, because his was the showy part, he was always the odd one out, so he was given characteristics that were more sympathetic.
“John, I don’t think was interested and didn’t bother. Paul was too interested and tried too hard and George was always the one that was forgotten. So he just did it and got on with it.”
With the band already the world’s biggest stars, commercial success was expected of A Hard Day’s Night, and it was so well received the following year Help! was released.
But the filming process did not come without its issues. Producer Walter Shenson noted that he became concerned about the group smoking on set and how this could influence youngsters in wanting to take up the habit.
He said: “I was aware that the audience for our picture was young people, children and the Beatles were their idols.
“So I sneaked around them, every time the camera started to roll, and took the cigarette out of their hands. When the director said cut, I handed the cigarette back.
“I didn’t get it all out but there was a lot more smoking on the set than you saw in the film.”
A Hard Day’s Night airs from 3.05pm on BBC Two today.
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