The story behind The Beatles' landmark film debut
“… Dad! We got the horse…”
Shooting finishes on April 24. The film receives two premiers – one at the London Pavilion (July 6) and one at the Odeon Cinema, Liverpool (July 10). The film takes $20,000 in its first week at the Pavilion; there are 1,600 prints in circulation. The soundtrack album, released on July 10, enters the charts at No 3: kept off the top spot by Cliff Richard and the Rolling Stones.
RICHARD LESTER: It was rushed. There wasn’t a lot of time to sit and chat. We only had three and a half weeks to dub the film, cut the negative and get our showprint ready for the premier at the London Pavilion. The film was in 10 minute reels. If something went wrong with the take, you’d have to stop, take all the reels off the projectors, put them on a bench and rewind them back to zero. In the dubbing theatre, we marked out a badminton court using camera tape. We had a league going in the ten minutes it took to rewind all these bloody bits of film. At that point, we showed it to United Artists, who hadn’t seen a frame of it.
DAVID PICKER: I didn’t see the movie until it was finished. We didn’t even look at dailies. It was simply the way we operated. I first saw A Hard Day’s Night in London in a small screening room.
DENIS O’DELL: All the executives were sitting in the projection room. I’m not sure if Richard was there, he was a bit shy about these things. To my astonishment, at the end of the film, I think it was [UA vice-president] Arnold Picker’s wife who said, “I think it’s lovely but we’ll have to dub the film. I can’t understand a word they say.” Can you believe dubbing The Beatles? It was extraordinary. These guys were powerful people.
RICHARD LESTER: We showed them the film in a cinema in Curzon Street and at the end they all thought it was terrific and they all – from United Artists – agreed that as soon as we could dub it, it would be terrific. We all said, “No.”
DAVID PICKER: Was there any concern about the accents? Why, no.
RICHARD LESTER: I went to the London premier at the Pavilion. They had an organist playing Beatles hits, with a spotlight on him. The lights were just about to go down, the film was about to start, but he hadn’t finished. I had made sure that there were no credits or titles before the first chord that opens “A Hard Day’s Night”. But this mighty Wurlizter was still finishing off his version of “Can’t By Me Love” and ran over it. We heard nothing during the film. There was wall to wall screening for 90 minutes.
PATTIE BOYD: I didn’t go to the premier. Brian Epstein was so keen on promoting The Beatles as single guys so they could be potentially available to their fans. Even though George and I were going out, Brian invited Hayley Mills to accompany George to the premier. She was the young English actress, it would have been a good look.
DENIS O’DELL: The premiers were incredible. While we were filming at the Scala, Paul had said to me, “It’s my dad’s birthday and I don’t know what to get him.” I bred race horses as a hobby. I said to Paul, ‘Does your dad ever have a bet? My father used to have a shilling each way on horses. Why don’t you buy him a race horse?’ Paul said, ‘Where do you get ‘em? How much do you pay for one?’ So I bought a horse called Drake’s Drum. I had a trainer in the north of England, a very straight, proper military man. He looked after the horse for a couple of months. Then Paul asked me to get a painting of the horse – ‘Drake’s Drum, Owned By James McCartney’. At the party after the premier, Paul called me over to join the band and one or two other people as Jim McCartney received his birthday present, wrapped in brown paper. He unwrapped it, looked at the painting and said in amazement, “What’s this?” I said to Paul, “Did you tell your dad we’ve got the horse?” “Oh, no! I forgot. Dad, we got the horse!” The horse won or three races afterwards, so that was a great success.
RICHARD LESTER: There was another premier in Liverpool, but I’d gone on holiday by then.
DENIS O’DELL: The biggest premier was in Liverpool. I’ve never seen so many people turn up in my life. It was amazing. We charted a train. All of us went up by train. There were thousands and thousands of people on the sidewalks from the railway station up the town hall. We were standing with the mayor and The Beatles on the balcony of the town hall and I couldn’t believe the amount of people we could see.
LIONEL BLAIR: I went to the premier in Liverpool. We went to the town hall. There was a balcony. We all walked out, even me. There were thousands there, screaming. Before the film started, they said, “We’ve got some of the people who were in the cast.” I went up on stage, and they went mad for everybody. Everybody that was associated with them, they went crazy for.
DENIS O’DELL: There was such a burst of interest, before we’d even finished it. I ended up running around the country delivering prints to the cinemas for UA to save time. They couldn’t get it out quick enough. What did the boys think of the film? They loved it, of course. Some years ago we went to a showing of it. Paul was there. We had a laugh about it. I think we did about eight pictures together, Richard and I. And my association with The Beatles went on for six or seven years.
RICHARD LESTER: How do I feel about the film now? I knew while we were filming, probably the second week, that one day in fiftysomething years time, if I fell under a bus and died the newspaper headlines would say, “Beatles director in death drama”, no matter what else I did. And that has absolutely come out to be the way it’s been. If I managed to produce the way I felt about them on the screen in a way that holds up, I’m just grateful. They were a marvellous part of my life.
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