I think it was Elvis--wasn't it?--who started the whole rock-star-in-film trend. Most of his movies were horrible. This, the Beatles' first film project, was supposed to be a quick cash-in job along those lines, so what's really remarkable about A HARD DAY'S NIGHT is how good it is. It's not just a classic rock 'n' roll movie--it's a classic movie, period.There is an infectiously breezy spirit running all the way through it; there's not a genuinely serious moment in this movie, which accounts for much of its appeal. It is a frivolous daydream of a movie--a bubblegum movie with bubblegum music--in which the closest thing to a tense situation occurs when Ringo inexplicably disappears right before air time. A good deal of their time is spent trying to evade rabid (but harmless) fans. Who wouldn't like to live like this? At least for a while.
Despite the understandable enthusiasm of countless Beatles fans who seem to think that A HARD DAY'S NIGHT was simply their idols spontaneously running riot before the camera, it is essentially a Richard Lester movie--he was doing this kind of hip surrealism before the Beatles came along, and he'd soon refine it further in 1965's THE KNACK, which would win the Palme d'Or. Visually, this is fantastic stuff--the handheld-camera loopiness never really seems forced. Just consider how relatively static the vast majority of films from 1964 looked like, and you'll get a sense of what an innovator Lester really was. Additional credit must go to screenwriter Alun Owen, an Academy Award nominee for his work here.
The Beatles weren't actors, of course, but here they didn't need to be. They were essentially being themselves, even if their repartee was (mostly) scripted and their personas slightly altered for effect. Their "performances" seem altogether natural--if they did not, the film's day-in-the-life pretense would be spoiled.
Somehow, the film doesn't seem dated in the slightest. I don't think it's just because the Beatles, the inspiration for God-knows-how-many bands, are still very much with us. This kind of artful lunacy doesn't really age, just as the best of the Marx Brothers doesn't.Oh, and the songs are pretty good, too.