“Meet The Beatles – Again!”

“A Hard Day’s Night”
The Beatles, Wilfred Brambell
Directed by Richard Lester

If you really want to know why the world fell in love with The Beatles in 1964, all you have to do is watch “A Hard Day’s Night.” Or better yet, watch it the way it was meant to be seen: on the big screen in all of its gear, full, fab glory.

Back in theaters to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its original release – and to coincide with its debut as a Criterion Collection DVD and Blu-ray – the first (and best) movie by the act you’ve known for all these years has never looked or sounded better. Brandishing a gorgeous print digitally restored from the original camera negative, it also boasts a remixed and remastered soundtrack produced by Giles Martin (the son of legendary Beatles producer George Martin).

No one – not even The Beatles themselves – expected “A Hard Day’s Night” to turn out as groundbreaking as it did, much less stand the test of time to be even more vital, vibrant and charming now than it was back in 1964. Upon its original release, film critic Andrew Sarris of The Village Voice widely hailed it as “the Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals,” and 50 years later, it still shines brighter than ever as a perfect example of pure, delirious, irresistible joy.

The Beatles were huge fans of director Richard Lester, specifically his work with Peter Sellers and the Goons and his 11-minute short “The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film” (included as a bonus feature on the DVD/Blu-ray). Lester’s fly-on-the-wall, cinema verite style was a perfect fit for the very funny screenplay written by Alun Owen, whose cheeky dialogue solidified the public’s perception of John Lennon as the witty one, Paul McCartney as the cute one, George Harrison as the quiet one and Ringo Starr as the funny one.

But since The Beatles were not actors, their dialogue was kept short and simple, just like the plot itself. It’s just 36 hours in the lives of the Fab Four as they, with Paul’s trouble-making (and very clean) grandfather (Wilfred Brambell) in tow, went from being “in a train and a room, and a car and a room, and a room and a room.” At the same time, they turned out to be a handful for their stressed-out manager (Norman Rossington), their dim-witted roadie (John Junkin) and their high-maintenance TV director (Victor Spinetti) until it all culminated with the moment of truth for the fans: The Beatles “live” in concert.

But as was always the case with the group, it was the music that sealed the deal. In addition to the landmark title track (written by Lennon in one night after being influenced by a quote from Ringo), they performed some of their most vibrant songs during scenes that had a huge influence on a new format called the music video. For proof of that, witness the train-set scene for “I Should Have Known Better” and the lively breakout-to-freedom scene for “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

“A Hard Day’s Night” cost $500,000 to make and started filming just two weeks after The Beatles returned from their triumphant first visit to America. It made being a Beatle look like fun, but it also captured just how much they had become prisoners of their own unprecedented fame.

So regardless of whether the year is 1964 or 2014, if you really want to know why the world still loves The Beatles, all you have to do is watch “A Hard Day’s Night.” And with a love like that, you know you should be glad.

-Scott Mantz