A Hard Day's Night;Help
It is a credit to the richness of Alun Owen’s rapid-fire screenplay and the freshness of the Beatles’ charismatic acting that the just-released special-edition cassette of A Hard Day’s Night (1964, MPI, G, $19.98) leaves the illusion of containing bits of wit not in the original movie. Throughout their first film, a deceptively straightforward masterpiece that’s neither simple nor naive, the Fab Four throw away so many Liverpool-accented quips that even careful viewers might discover a few surprises on the umpteenth replay. With its warm black-and-white tone and sparkling soundtrack nicely preserved here, the mockumentary provides an irresistible portrait of the Beatles — if not as they actually were, then as the world wanted them to be.
The group’s second film, Help! (1965, MPI, G, $19.98), though entertaining, hasn’t aged so gracefully. As the Beatles race around the world, pursued by villains intent on removing a ceremonial ring from Ringo’s finger, corny jokes and contrived comedy make it a long trip. The music (including ”Ticket to Ride”) is wonderful and the European scenery an eyeful, but this is ultimately a movie starring the Beatles rather than a Beatles movie, and there’s a big difference.
Both tapes have been supplemented by the same material added to deluxe laserdisc editions released in 1987. For A Hard Day’s Night, there’s a trailer for the theatrical rerelease, a mid-’60s interview with director Richard Lester, and a blurry slapstick short from 1959 that, despite appearances, helped convince the Beatles of his suitability. The 19 minutes added to Help! provide such collectors’ scraps as stills, candid set footage, a movie trailer, a radio interview, record covers, lobby cards, and footage of the movie’s London opening — all miniature milestones on the group’s long and winding road. A Hard Day’s Night: A+; Help!: B+