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
Courtesy of the Criterion Collection
Courtesy of the Criterion Collection

Details

A Hard Day's Night, starring John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Wilfrid Brambell, and John Junkin. Directed by Richard Lester. Written by Alun Owen. Opens Friday, July 4, at Coral Gables Art Cinema.

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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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