Another day for British pop band the Beatles, and another day where they have to flee their teenage fans, this time to catch their train and reach the hotel. After a spot of bother and nearly being caught, they climb aboard and settle down in their carriage, but there's a fifth person seated with them who three of the others don't recognise. Paul (Paul McCartney) announces, when quizzed, that this old man is his grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell) and he has to look after him for the next day or two, and they all remark on how clean he is. But he will prove to be a troublemaker over the next twenty four hours, because, as Paul says, he is a "mixer" and forever mixing up problems between people...
That's about the extent of the plotting in A Hard Day's Night, which purported to be a glimpse of the life on the road with the world's most famous music group. Although mainly meant to be an accompaniment to the soundtrack album, which is where the record company thought the money lay, it garnered such a good response, even from those who were not particular fans of the Beatles, that it went on to be an instant classic from the moment it was released. As scripted by Alun Owen, a Liverpudlian TV writer and occasional actor, the film was a succession of apparently off the cuff quips and gags, and it won over just about everyone who saw it.
Thanks to that script, each of the band appear to have not only an excellent sense of humour but thanks to the direction by Richard Lester, superb comic timing as well. A mere handful of jokes fail to hit the mark, while the rest are genuinely funny, bolstered by a cast of actors with a track record in humorous playing who assist in putting the band in a good light. Apparently the Beatles wouldn't bother memorising their lines (note the lack of any big speeches) and would simply have the words fed to them by Lester, who would get the band to repeat as many times as necessary - but it doesn't show.
Spontaneity is the order of the day, no matter how precision planned or otherwise the film was in actuality. Paul's grandfather is the catalyst for the adventures, such as they are, and starts by appropriating an invitation to a casino that was meant for Ringo (Ringo Starr) where he poses in a borrowed suit as "Lord McCartney" and wins £190 until Paul and the rest turn up to drag him back to the hotel room. It's Ringo who he has the most effect on, as we see when he is pushed into rebellion and "parading" by Paul's grandfather, abandoning the rehearsals the next day to wander the streets and find himself.
The music was just as important as the comedy, and here the Beatles contribute a wealth of lively, toe-tapping tunes and oddly melancholy songs as well, as if in contrast. The most famous musical sequence sees the band escape the TV studio and play around in a field to the sound of "Can't Buy Me Love", and the whole thing ends with the TV appearance during which, unlike a real life Beatles' concert, you can hear them over the screams. None of the band are great actors, but their irreverence here is charm personified, and the way that the showbiz lifestyle around them is shown to be insincere in comparison with the stars' work goes quite some way to making them attractively rebellious. A Hard Day's Night was at once the start of a new trend in musical film and TV, and a never-bettered one of a kind. George Martin was the musical director.
Efforts like Royal Flash, Robin and Marian, gay bathhouse comedy The Ritz and Cuba made less impact, but in the eighties Lester was called in to salvage the Superman series after Richard Donner walked off Superman II; Lester also directed Superman III. Finders Keepers was a flop comedy, and Return of the Musketeers had a tragic development when one of his regular cast, Roy Kinnear, died while filming. Lester then decided to give up directing, with Paul McCartney concert Get Back his last film.