Looking Back on The Beatles’ Movies, From ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ to ‘Help!’
This is an excerpt from TV Guide Magazine’s The Beatles on TV Special Collector’s Edition, available for order online now at BeatlesonTV.com and for purchase on newsstands nationwide.
The Fab Four’s energy was never higher than on their three beloved films. Ahead of the release of Disney+’s docuseries The Beatles: Get Back, we’re reflecting on the musical group’s trips to the big screen.
A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
Directed By Richard Lester, Written By Alun Owen
Starring: The Beatles, Wilfrid Brambell, Norman Rossington, John Junkin, and Victor Spinetti
The Setup: With the first wave of Beatlemania hitting its crest, the Fab Four look for a respite as they prep for a big television appearance.
The Plot: Taking a day-in-the-life approach with Marx Brothers–level anarchy, the movie breathlessly captures the moment the Liverpool lads became generational idols. It’s all about rehearsing for a TV show, but it turns into a grander pastiche based on their own busy lives. As such, the subplots are rich: Paul’s mischievous grandfather nearly messes up the band’s live performance; Ringo goes missing (and drums up a ton of trouble); the boys bop at a twist club (until their manager yanks them out of the place); hijinks ensue on a train, including scenes with George’s future wife, Pattie Boyd (top left, combing George’s hair); and George gives a marketing expert a lesson in what is and isn’t hip. And man—those songs!
The Lines We Love
The running joke about Paul’s “clean” grandfather:
Diner 1: Lord John McCartney, millionaire, Irish peer — filthy rich, of course.
Diner 2: I don’t know. He looks quite clean to me.
This crazy Q&A at a Beatles press conference:
Reporter: What would you call that hairstyle you’re wearing?
The boys’ reaction to Ringo’s mountain of fan mail:
John: Must have cost you a fortune in stamps, Ringo.
George: He comes from a large family.
Can’t-Miss Scene: The foursome excitedly dance in a field as “Can’t Buy Me Love” plays. There’s slo-mo, overhead shots, and a captivating sense of innocence…until an older gentleman angrily informs them they’re on private property. George replies, “Sorry we hurt your field, mister.”
The Songs: “A Hard Day’s Night,” “I Should Have Known Better,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “Don’t Bother Me,” “All My Loving,” “If I Fell,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “And I Love Her,” “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You,” “Ringo’s Theme (This Boy),” “Tell Me Why,” “She Loves You”
Why We Still Love It: Nearly 60 years later, it remains a delightful showcase for the Beatles and an enduring snapshot of a moment in time.
Directed By Richard Lester, Written By Marc Behm and Charles Wood
Starring: The Beatles, Leo McKern, Eleanor Bron, and Victor Spinetti
The Setup: The group has a new album to record. But there’s one challenge — they must protect Ringo from a sinister cult obsessed with stealing a unique-looking ring of his.
The Plot: Whoever wears the huge red ring will be that day’s human sacrifice to the cult’s goddess, but it remains stuck on Ringo’s finger. In a crazy international chase that plays like a comical James Bond film (with the Bond theme used in the movie), the boys, the cult and strange scientists try all manner to remove it through a series of zany adventures and musical performances.
The Lines We Love
Paul’s attempt to convince Ringo to satisfy the cult by simply cutting off his ring finger:
Paul: You don’t miss your tonsils, do ya?
John’s understandably confused response when Ringo goes to mail a package and gets his hand stuck in the slot because a cult member hiding inside a mailbox is trying to yank off that ring:
John: What are you doing?!
Ringo: Posting a letter!
The little inside joke about Paul being “the cute Beatle”:
George: I’m always getting winked at these days. It used to be you, didn’t it, Paul?
Can’t-Miss Scene: A series of five outlandish attempts to get Ringo’s ring, including buzz-sawing the floor under his drum set while the band plays “You’re Going to Lose That Girl,” and a fantastic scene in a bathroom where the air dryer tries to suck it off his hand, and instead steals some of the Beatles’ clothes.
The Songs: “Help!” “You’re Going to Lose That Girl,” “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” “Ticket to Ride,” “I Need You,” “The Night Before,” “Another Girl,” “She’s a Woman,” “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You,” “You Can’t Do That,” “From Me to You”
Why We Still Love It: The slapstick is nonstop. Despite a thin and weird plot, it’s a great excuse to watch the band run through wonderful songs and see them skiing in Austria. Plus, the visual set pieces — the band’s communal house and Paul shrunk down until he fits in an ashtray — still hold up.
Yellow Submarine (1968)
Directed By George Dunning, Written By Lee Minoff, Al Brodax, Jack Mendelsohn, and Erich Segal
Starring: The voices of Paul Angelis, John Clive, Dick Emery, Geoffrey Hughes, and Lance Percival
The Setup: In a trippy animated adventure, the Beatles must stop the music-hating Blue Meanies from killing all the joy in Pepperland.
The Plot: A wondrous mix of witty quickness and the psychedelic Pop Art look of a Peter Max painting, Yellow Submarine links great songs to a crazy land-and-sea journey to make the world safe for music.
The Lines We Love
The opening words of the film set the tone for the endless plays on words and craziness to come:
Narrator: Once upon a time, or maybe twice, there was an unearthly paradise called Pepperland; 80,000 leagues under the sea it lay, or lie. I’m not too sure.
Ringo’s reaction after pulling an arrow out of his stomach (he’d just been rescued by his fellows after falling into the Sea of Monsters, where arrows flew at him fast and furious):
John: How was it?
Ringo gives Fred a tour through a hall of displays in the huge house where he and his mates live:
Fred: Hey, what would your friends be doing here?
Fred: Displayin’ what?
Ringo: Displayin’ around.
Can’t-Miss Scene: The very end. None of the Beatles had participated in the film until they saw the finished product. They liked it so much that they agreed to film the famed “All Together Now” coda.
The Songs: “Yellow Submarine,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Love You To,” “A Day in the Life,” “All Together Now,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Only a Northern Song,” “Nowhere Man,” “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” “Think for Yourself,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “With a Little Help From My Friends,” “All You Need Is Love,” “Baby, You’re a Rich Man,” “Hey Bulldog,” “It’s All Too Much”
Why We Still Love It: It has deservedly achieved cult status, appealing to both kids and adults with whimsy and wonder. As George Harrison once said, “Every baby, 3 or 4 years old, goes through Yellow Submarine.”
The Beatles: Get Back, Documentary Premiere, November 25–27, Disney+