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Directed by Richard Lester. Most of his work is surreal comedy. Hints of that reach this film. Written by Alun Owen. He spent a week with the group to write the right script, and was nominated for an Oscar. But it's hard to know what's scripted and what's improvised.
It's just an ordinary day-and-a-half in the life for John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr: a train and a room and a car and a room and a room and a room; interviews and rehearsals and performances. It's slightly more unusual than most ordinary days, though, because Paul is supposed to be keeping an eye on his "very clean" grandfather, a "king mixer." But since when have the Beatles, offstage, done what they were supposed to do?
The film itself has become a classic due to its many innovations in cinematography (notably the invention of the handheld camera shot and its use of the birds-eye-view shots during the "Can't Buy Me Love" sequence).
- Aerith and Bob: The Beatles' managers are Norm and Shake.
- All of the Other Reindeer: Much of the conflict in this film comes from uncertainly-motivated teasing of Ringo, and his reactions to it.
- Subverted, as Ringo actually takes it all in good humor until Paul's Grandfather deliberately provokes him into running away.
- Double Subverted: he's willing to put up with it, but it's made clear that Ringo doesn't appreciate all the jibes directed at him. He only runs off after being provoked by Paul's Grandfather, however.
- Antagonist in Mourning: For all the time John actively invests in making his job hell, Norm seems quite devastated when he believes he's just let him run down the drain with the bath water. (Those "hints of surreal humor" we mentioned earlier? Good example, here.)
- As Himself: Well, of course.
- Berserk Button: Don't touch Ringo's drums.
- Blunt Yes: George's response in an interview.
Reporter: Has success changed your life?
- Chick Magnet: Played for laughs near the beginning of the film.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Ringo, possibly. John strangely doesn't play one himself, in spite of being reputed for being one later in life. Though one could make an argument for the scene in which John plays with the toy boat in the bathtub.
- Day in the Life
- Deadpan Snarker: All four Beatles were masters of the craft. An example of a detail taken from real life, as the boys really would give sarcastic answers to reporters as they do in the film.
- Particular mention should go to George's completely straight-faced answer to "What do you call that haircut?" "Arthur."
- After John manages to coax a sour "'ello" out of Paul's grandfather:
John: He can talk!
- Description Cut: "It'll be wine, women and song once Ringo gets the taste of it." Cut to Ringo wincing as he's eating a sandwich in a pub somewhere.
- Devil in Plain Sight
- Disney Acid Sequence: "Can't Buy Me Love" (both sequences)
- Does This Remind You Of Anyone: The boy at the riverside. Pay close attention as he describes his three best friends...
- Fake Shemp: For John during "Can't Buy Me Love". He was promoting his book "In His Own Write" during production, so that's why you don't see John much during the sequence.
- Also, those are Richard Lester's legs you see instead of Paul's on the fire escape stairs--Paul was too hung over to participate.
- Finagle's Law
- Floating Head Syndrome: even in some 1964 posters.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar:
- John "snorting" his unopened bottle of Pepsi.
- During the press conference, a female reporter asks John "Have you any hobbies?". John grabs her notepad, writes a four-letter word, the last two letters of which are obviously TS, and then shows it to the reporter, whose jaw drops upon reading it.
- In the same press conference scene, Ringo is asked, "How do you like your girlfriends to dress?" He considers the question for a moment before chuckling to himself.
John: [whilst claiming to be an escaped prisoner] I bet you can't guess what I was in for!
- Groupie Brigade: Of note, one of the schoolgirls on the train is Patti Boyd, who would later become George Harrison's wife (and later the wife of Harrison's best friend Eric Clapton, who wrote "Layla" about her).
- Hilarity Ensues
- Homemade Sweater From Hell: Worn by the Television Director (which actually belonged to the actor and was not a costume). The Beatles comment on how ridiculous he looks in it.
"I bet he hasn't got a wife- look at his sweater."
- Kensington Gore (in throwaway gag)
- Lip Synch:
- This is normal procedure for musicals, but it's notable here because a sharp-eared person can see Paul singing parts in "I Should Have Known Better" that, strictly and musically speaking, aren't there. (Actually, it's just the wrong verses.)
- Also look at John's facial expressions during "If I Fell." Proof that not only did they do this, but the boys really didn't take it seriously.
- Mistaken for An Imposter: Ringo at the police station
- There's also John and Millie (the stage hand):
Millie: Hello! Oh, wait a minute! Don't tell me who you are...
- And then there's George at the fashion studio:
George: I'm terribly sorry, but there seems to be some sort of misunderstanding.
- Mistaken for Servant: Exploited. As Paul's grandfather is gambling at the Le Cercle club, he runs out of money. So he writes a "tab" on a piece of paper, puts on a plate, places a napkin on his arm (he's already wearing a very waiter-ish suit, "borrowed" from a room-service man at his hotel) and walks over to a patron, who pays him. He then uses the money to get back in the game.
- Mockumentary: Many viewers thought this was a true documentary. Considering how much Reality Subtext there is, it's not surprising.
- Ms. Fanservice: Margaret Nolan played the bosomy woman in the low-cut dress draped all over Paul's grandfather at the casino.
- Noodle Incident: "But when I plugged her in, she just blew up."
- Orbital Shot
- Paper-Thin Disguise: More than once.
- Performance Video: Much of this film qualifies.
- Phrase Catcher: "He's very clean."
- Real Life Relative: George Harrison met his first wife, Pattie Boyd, while shooting this film. She played the blonde schoolgirl who says "Prisoners?" when Paul tries to flirt with her on the train.
- Averted with Paul's (very fictional) grandfather.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: In numerous ways, real-life Beatlemania being an obvious example. Other minor examples are George tripping and sprawling over the suitcases during the opening chase (a real accident that was left in), and Ringo's Sad Clown sequence walking along the lake (it was praised as some of the best acting in the movie, but Ringo himself later admitted he was extremely hungover and genuinely miserable that day).
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: John delivers an unusually good-natured one towards Paul's Grandfather after all the trouble he's caused.
John: You know your trouble, you should have gone west to America. You would have been a senior citizen of Boston. But you took a wrong turn, and what happened? You're a lonely old man from Liverpool.
- Shout-Out: Ringo is invited to the Le Cercle casino, which was where we first meet James Bond at the beginning of Dr. No. And the girl with Paul's Grandfather is played by Margaret Nolan, who played Dink in Goldfinger.
- Squee: The mob of fangirls did a lot of this, to humorous effect.
- Straw Fan: It opens with the Fab Four pursued by the aforementioned mob of fans. The extras playing the fans, being actual Beatles fans (which was inevitable if you hired three hundred teenagers in London in 1964), were so good that the filmmakers could do only one take of the relevant scenes -- and about half the "takes" were more like "let the fans see the Beatles, and then just keep the cameras rolling".
- Theme Tune Cameo: John, Paul and George sing part of "A Hard Day's Night" at one point.
- Truth in Television: A number of gags in the film, such as Ringo getting the most fanmail, are real tidbits from the band's lives. George Harrison's Mistaken for An Imposter bit was likely a reference to him entering a Beatles lookalike contest under a fake name and not winning.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight:
Ringo: [Opens door] Any of you lock a man in the cupboard?
Norm: The place is surging with girls!
- Visual Pun: John snorts the top of a Coke bottle... subverted in that it's a Pepsi bottle.
- Also, when they perform "I'm Happy Just to Dance With You", the set is decorated with paintings of literal beetles.
- Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Seriously, Shake?
- You Had Us Worried There: This happens several times when the Beatles arrive somewhere they're supposed to be at the very last minute. Only one or two of them are life-threatening.