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Archive for September 21st, 2011

by John Greco

When “A Hard Day’s Night” was first released everyone was expecting the English pop groups’ version of an Elvis movie, “It Happened at the British Open” or something like that. Have John Lennon and Paul McCartney pump out a half a dozen or so songs, create a soundtrack, release the album and sell millions for United Artists. The studio was just looking to cash in on the music quickly before the fad of Beatlemania would fade from the memory of teenagers around the world. In February 1964, The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show where more than 60 million viewers watched. The time was ripe for a film, but it had to be made quick and cheap, United Artists not wanting to spring for any extra dollars. What producer, Walter Shenson got, along with the studio, music critics and the public, instead was a surprisingly energetic, pulsating, witty frenetic day in the life that Andrew Sarris in his original Village Voice review called, “the Citizen Kane of juke-box musicals.”

Prior to “A Hard Day’s Night,” rock and roll musicals were a disreputable lot consisting of Alan Freed “extravaganzas” which were mostly excuses to bring early rock and roll singers like Little Richard, Gene Vincent and Chuck Berry along with Doo-Wop groups such as The Flamingos and Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers on to the big screen surrounded usually with the simple idea of putting on a big show for the kids against the wishes of parents, teachers, local town leaders and other narrow minded authority figures. Not much better were the Elvis movies, though some of his early films (King Creole, Jailhouse Rock, and Flaming Star) reflected signs of talent on screen. Disappointingly, by the time “A Hard Day’s Night” arrived, Elvis’ films had been reduced to the stale pabulum formula of “Fun in Acapulco,” “Kissin’ Cousins” and “It Happened at the World’s Fair,” generally with songs just as bland as the titles (The Bullfighter Was a Lady, Barefoot Ballad, Cotton Candyland). Other films exploited the Twist dance craze (Hey Let’s Twist, Don’t Knock the Twist) and the A.I.P. Frankie and Annette movies were not much better. So when in July 1964, a small black and white film starring the English mop tops was released the only thing anyone was expecting was a lot of money to be rolling into United Artists bank account. (more…)

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