Re-examining ‘A Hard Day’s Night’

This past weekend, I watched Ron Howard’s wonderful new documentary about the Beatles during their touring years, Eight Days a Week. As a huge Beatles fan, I saw A Hard Day’s Night several times in my adolescence, never quite understanding all the things the film was, but enjoying it nonetheless.

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BEATLEMANIA…#ThoseGirlsAreCray

After watching the documentary, I felt like I had a little more context for the film. A Hard Day’s Night was made in 1964 and was meant to capitalize on the Beatlemania which was sweeping the world. Director Richard Lester was brought in to make a film which was a comedy, a documentary, and a musical film all in one.

When mentioning this film to other young people, I found that most people thought it was an actual documentary or they simply had never heard of it which is a MAJOR BUMMER cause this film is fantastic!

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Lennon being Lennon… 

So, without further adieu, here are just a few reasons you need to watch A Hard Day’s Night:

The Script

So, I know many of you out there might be like, “What script? There was a script.” Because of the naturalistic style of the film, many don’t realize that the film was almost one-hundred percent scripted. The only one who ad-libbed was John Lennon, who let’s face it, probably couldn’t help it.

Alun Owen penned the script after spending time with John, Paul, George and Ringo. He listened to the way they spoke and tried to put words in their mouths that would sound natural for them to say. He also used the script to satirize television, the press, and The Beatles’ own celebrity.

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Love me some 1960s insults. #SUCHADRAG

The Comedy

Really, to me, this is what makes the film more than just one long music video. Even though the film was fully scripted, it doesn’t feel like it. The camaraderie between the boys is effortless and hilarious. Their cheekiness is everything.

They picked great character actors for the smaller bit roles and it helped to make the film feel like it had a real narrative we were following. Paul’s grandfather (NOT REALLY HIS GRANDFATHER) is hilarious…and very CLEAN.

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THOSE GLASSES THOUGH. 
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The BEST joke. 

The Direction

Director Richard Lester’s only real experience before A Hard Day’s Night was in television. Two years ago, during the 50th anniversary’s BFI screening, Lester was interviewed by NME where he said,”The idea of the film came from the film department of United Artists at the beginning of 1964, and they said they’d only do it if it was cheap and in black and white and if we could get it done by July. They thought The Beatles were going to be a spent force by the end of the summer (Lester, NME Article).” Lester went on to direct The Beatles’ second film, Help! as well as Superman II and Superman III.

His direction brims with enthusiasm and energy, possibly due to the fact that he was not much older (Lester was just 32!) than The Beatles themselves. Oh, and the fans that you see in the film…they’re real. He just let them do whatever they wanted to do. So, of course, they went NUTS.

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Genuine NUTSO Beatles fans…

The Music

The music is EVERYTHING. You have to remember, this was before MTV or TRL (which honestly are references that are both kind of before my time). There was no such thing as music videos and I can imagine, being a young person during that time and seeing this film must have been like a dream come true, like a private concert for Beatles fans around the world. And the music is SOOOOO GOOD.

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You can’t buy love, man. If the Beatles say it, it must be true. #RealTalk

The Characters

This film’s strength very much rests on the wonderful character actors. Wilfrid Brambell was cast as Paul’s grandfather and his performance makes the film, IMHO. He had been in a popular BBC show called Steptoe and Son where he’d apparently been called a dirty old man, which is where the big joke came from, “He’s very clean.” Norman Rossington and John Junkin were also wonderful as the band’s fake managers. Comedian Anna Quayle (of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang fame) was also thrown in for good measure.

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Weirdos…

And of course, THE BEATLES!!

The Beatles’ fame and fandom was unlike anything or anyone up until that point. United Artists thought they were a passing fad. Little did they know that their influence on culture would stand the test of time, or at least the next fifty years. Their chemistry, both as musicians and friends, make A Hard Day’s Night a joy from start to finish. You should have a smile on your face throughout. Or…at least I did!

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#SWOON

Trailer below:

Gifs and Main Photo property of United Artists.

 

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The Genius of Natalie Wood in ‘Splendor in the Grass’

I’ve discussed Natalie Wood once before on this blog in my post about West Side Story. Natalie was given the role of Maria based on the film I want to discuss today, Splendor in the Grass. Even more than West Side Story, Natalie Wood’s performance in this film affected me profoundly.

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This scene THOUGH. #ImNotCryingYoureCrying

I first saw this film in high school. So, of course, it struck a cord with me since I was in that stage where obsessing over a guy was eh, extremely common. Crushes felt like life or death situations. Thus, I immediately felt a kinship to Natalie Wood’s Deannie, a girl who felt stuck between following her heart and making her parents proud. She wanted to be the good girl her parents believed her to be, but also would do anything to keep Bud Stamper interested.

If you’re unfamiliar with the film, here’s my short synopsis. Splendor in the Grass, made in 1961, follows Bud Stamper (Warren Beatty) and Deannie Loomis (Natalie Wood) in 1920s Kansas. They’re teenagers in love for the first time. But, they have one overwhelming obstacle: sex. While both of them are ready and willing to give that part of themselves to the other, they’re both fed poor advice by their parents and so, end up breaking up. Deannie doesn’t handle it well. In fact, she has a nervous breakdown. And of course, drama ensues.

Here are a few reasons Splendor in the Grass is a classic film staple:

Natalie Wood

Without Natalie Wood, this film would be only moderately interesting. She was 23 when she starred in this film, but was already a seasoned actress. She had been in the business since she was five years old. Still, Splendor in the Grass was really her foray into adult roles. And though she was young, her talent was clear. She had something inside her. Her vulnerabilities and emotions were out for everyone to see and that’s especially true in this film. Her range as an actress was clear – she was interested in characters and wanted desperately to be taken seriously as an actress.

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I mean, Felicity wasn’t the first girl to cut her hair after a breakup…

Warren Beatty

Beatty made his feature film debut in this film. William Inge, the writer, had cast him in a play a few years earlier, and so when Splendor in the Grass came along, he’s who Inge first thought of. Beatty and Wood apparently had an affair on the project, which Elia Kazan (the director) only encouraged, believing it would only make their love scenes better. Beatty was given this chance and it catapulted him to stardom overnight. There’s no doubt that he was very attractive, but like Wood, he had a certain X factor which made him a star. His intensity with his father and with Wood in the film is palpable.

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He definitely could have been like a hunky football player or something, amiright?

The Supporting Cast

Kazan and Inge knew how important the supporting players were and chose well, casting Pat Hingle as Bud’s father and Audrey Christie as Deannie’s mother. He also cast Barbara Loden as Bud’s wild sister, Ginny. They all brought gusto to their roles and Barbara Loden actually ended up becoming Mrs. Kazan a few years later. Loden also went on to write and direct Wanda in 1970, a raw film which was completely from the female point of view!

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A woman doesn’t enjoy sex. Just a male thing….obviously. #1920s

The Screenplay

The screenplay was written by the famous playwright and author, William Inge. His other film credits include Bus Stop, Picnic, and All Fall Down. Inge and Kazan worked together on a play and wanted to find another project to collaborate on. Inge told Kazan about an idea he had based on people he knew growing up in Kansas. Inge first wrote the book and then adapted it into a screenplay.

As a story, the film reminds me of a musical from a few years back: Spring Awakening. While Spring Awakening took place in the 1890’s, both stories were essentially about the same thing – society presenting misinformation and prudishness regarding sex. The conflict in Splendor in the Grass comes regarding a young couple’s inability to be together without sex being a factor.

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Aw, Spring Awakening…

Deannie’s mother tells her sex is not something a woman does because she wants to. A “good girl” doesn’t have those feelings, her mother tells her. Conversely, Bud’s father understands his son’s sexual urges and tells him to find solace in another kind of a girl. When Bud dumps Deannie, she goes mad, unable to eat, sleep, or find meaning in her life.

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This bath scene seriously is frightening…

The Score

Splendor in the Grass’s score was composed by David Amram who’s also known for his score for The Manchurian Candidate. His score is sweeping, melancholy, and somehow reflective of the 1920’s.

The Cinematography

Boris Kaufman, who also shot On the Waterfront and 12 Angry Men shot the film beautifully, with rich color and fascinating close ups.

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I don’t think she’s alright. #NervousBreakdown

The Direction

This is the biggy. Elia Kazan, known for many other films including On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire, knew how to get the best performances out of his actors. Natalie Wood, who was famously afraid of water, had apprehension even about shooting the bathtub scene. Kazan told her that he would focus the camera on Christie and just get reaction shots. This got Wood upset and thus, she shot the scene in one take and it may be her strongest scene in anything she ever did.

Kazan said “It’s not my favorite of my films, but the last reel is my favorite last reel, at once the saddest and the happiest…What I like about this ending is its bittersweet ambivalence, full of what Bill had learned from his own life; that you have to accept limited happiness, because all happiness is limited, and that to expect perfection is the most neurotic thing of all; you must live with the sadness as well as with the joy” (Kazan, TCM Article).

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Kazan on set with Beatty and Wood

Those Random things…

Trivia tidbit – Natalie Wood and husband Robert Wagner named their boat the Splendour after the film. It was that boat that Natalie fell off in 1981, drowning.

I came across this video of Robert Redford discussing Natalie Wood and just thought it was too good not to share. It gives you a view into who Natalie was as a person, separate from her on-screen persona.

I love this film because it’s honest. It’s about idealistic love and the idea that life doesn’t work out the way you think it will. It’s also commenting on a time period where sex was very much a taboo thing. At that time, there was no sex education. As such, their was a stigma with sex before marriage. There were no open lines of communication.

The last scene in the film, there’s a lot that’s left unsaid. But, it doesn’t need to be. Natalie Wood, with just a glance, could express everything she was feeling. And thus, her performance makes this film what it is: a true classic.

Plus, it’s just fun to watch the crazy parents give their awful advice which ends up messing everything up!

Vintage trailer below:

 

‘Young and Innocent’: Hitchcock’s Most Obscure Masterpiece

This past Saturday marked the 117th birthday of legendary director Alfred Hitchcock. The occasion made me think of one of my favorite Hitchcock films, Young and Innocent, or as it’s also known, The Girl Was Young. It was one of his early British films, which he made in between The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes! 

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Nova Pilbeam and Derrick De Marney in Young and Innocent

It’s not one of the acclaimed Hitchcock films you’ll see on those lists of the best movies ever made. It is a quiet film, one which was made on the cheap (Hitch used lots of set-models in this one) and which is not perfect by any means. Still, it’s immensely enjoyable due in large part to its charming leads.

If you’ve never seen Young and Innocent, here’s my quick synopsis. Nova Pilbeam plays Erica, a policeman’s daughter who befriends an escaped convict. Her co-star, the escaped convict, Robert Driscoll, was played by the handsome and witty, Derrick De Marney. Driscoll is accused of murdering a famous film actress and with the evidence stacked against him, he runs away. Erica ends up helping him, first reluctantly – then, because she believes in his innocence…and y’know, ends up falling in love with him.

Here are just a few reasons Young and Innocent is a Hitchcock staple:

The Cast

Nova Pilbeam is a revelation in this film. She was only eighteen at the time, but she projected supreme confidence and poise beyond her years. She’s also a kick-ass feminist heroine, using razor-sharp quips as her weapons.

Pilbeam was a famous child actress who also starred in Hitchcock’s original British The Man Who Knew Too Much in 1934. Although, she didn’t star in much after this film – she retired in the 1940’s – it’s easy to recognize her deep talent. She had an expressive face and personality. Her performance in this film is memorizing.

Also, how great is her name? Just imagine introducing yourself as Nova Pilbeam. Talk about original.

 

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Meet-cute time. 

Similarly, Derrick De Marney is also ridiculously likeable in this film. The way he looks at Pilbeam should make any girl swoon. Or, I should say, it makes THIS girl swoon. Robert is witty and snarky, but sweet and he makes it clear early on, that he’ll do anything for Pilbeam’s Erica.

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#SWOON

The Script

The script was adapted from a mystery novel called A Shilling for Candles which was written by Josephine Tay. Several writers worked on the script including Charles Bennett, Edwin Greenwood, Anthony Armstrong, Gerald Savory and Hitchcock’s wife, Alma Reville. Still, with so many cooks, the script turned out quite strong. It was curt and to the point, while still having wonderful, snappy dialogue.

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Erica’s one tough broad…#WittyGirl

The cinematography

One of Hitchcock’s greatest strengths was in knowing how to tell a story visually. Since he started in the days of silent films, he was used to it. Thus, his shots were more dynamic. He was interested in putting you in the character’s shoes – small looks where decisions were being made. He teamed with cinematographer Bernard Knowles on Young and Innocent, who also shot The 39 Steps.

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Such an expressive face Ms. Pilbeam had…

Additionally, I think Hitchcock’s use of models was very interesting. He believed that whether the setting was “real” or not was of little importance. If the audience believed in the characters and the plot, then what did it matter?

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Real people in that car? I don’t think so…

BONUS: If you’re at all interested in Hitchcock, I think you’ll find this clip interesting. In it, he discusses visual storytelling and it’s fascinating.

 

The Romance

The romance is really the center of this film, although, of course, it’s all implied. The chemistry of Pilbeam and De Marney carries the film, even though shooting it wasn’t always so easy. Hitchcock wanted the scenes to be fast and he would apparently time them. Also, it was Pilbeam’s first romantic role.

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THIS SCENE THOUGH. #HeartSwelling

It’s frothy, light, suspenseful fun

Nova Pilbeam, who passed away only last year, was interviewed in 1990. She recalled seeing the film in a theater with her daughter years after she made it, saying, “What amazed me was that, firstly, the cinema was full and, secondly, it was full of young people. I would have thought that “Young and Innocent” was a very dated film, yet they seemed to find it fascinating” (Pilbeam). Great films and performances are never old. The same goes for Hitchcock himself. His films will surely be remembered as long as cinema is alive.

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Light and frothy fun…

The film is now in the public domain and as such, is available to watch on Youtube for free. I found one that is wonderful quality. Enjoy the film and let me know what you think of it in the comments!

 

P.S.  – If you’re looking for Hitch’s cameo….

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I spy…

Happy birthday, Hitch! 🎉