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The Beatles at the movies

This week sees the release of The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years in cinemas. The documentary will follow the fab four through their touring years of 1962-66.

As you might be aware, the Beatles are no strangers to film. They appeared as a band in several motion pictures as well as individually in their own acting pursuits. Paul McCartney is also set to appear in next year’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.

In the meantime, here’s a list of five cinematic Beatles appearances – some you’ll have probably heard of, some a bit more obscure…

A Hard Days Night

The Beatles had a successful film career, and it all began with A Hard Day’s Night. Released at the height of Beatlemania, this 1964 comedy was directed by Richard Lester, who, as well as putting out multiple Beatles movies, went on to direct Superman II and III. The film successfully showed that in conjunction with being amazing musicians, the Beatles are also very funny men.

It follows the four of them during a day of absurdity, culminating in a live televised performance. A Hard Day’s Night is still considered highly influential, said to have been the inspiration for the Monkees’ television series in the late 60s. In an interview on the DVD re-release, Lester joked that he had been labelled the father of MTV and suggested someone should do a paternity test. The film, which is currently available on Netflix, was ranked as one of TIME Magazine’s top 100 movies of all time.

Trivia: Phil Collins appeared uncredited as an extra in the film, as a boy in the concert audience.

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Yellow Submarine

Do you remember singing the nonsense song ‘Yellow Submarine’ at primary school, oblivious to the fact that it was written by Paul McCartney? Two years after the song was released, this animated fantasy musical comedy (try saying that ten times) was released. It was originally believed that the fab four would be voicing their own animated counterparts, but this turned out not to be the case.

The guys did contribute however in terms of composing and performing the soundtrack, as well as acting in a final, live-action scene. Yellow Submarine is believed to have been an important step in making people consider animation in a prestigious light. Rightly so – in the year that Zootropolis was released, the bold visuals, innovative at the time, still look lush.

Trivia: George Harrison was played by a man called Peter Batten for the first half of the film. When he was found to be an army deserter, he was arrested during recording, and replaced by Paul Angelis who also played Ringo. Those with scouse-attuned ears will be able to tell that two Beatles end up sounding identical!

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How I Won the War

Before he imagined there were ‘no countries [to] kill or die for’, John Lennon was part of a fictional WWII regiment. He starred alongside Michael Crawford in this 1967 black comedy film based on the novel by Patrick Ryan.

The film follows a platoon’s attempts to put an end to their useless commander (Crawford), but their efforts are less than successful. The irony is far from subtle and the film doesn’t really have a great deal to say, but it’s fun and silly and good example of dry British satire. Although he’s not in it that much considering he has second billing, it’s interesting to watch Lennon in his only non-musical role.

Fact: It was during filming of How I Won the War that John Lennon started to wear his iconic ‘granny’ glasses.

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Help! is the third film on our list to be directed by Richard Lester. Due to the commercial success of A Hard Day’s Night, Lester was given a bigger budget this time around, and the result was an hour and a half of zany James Bond satire, the first Beatles film in colour. While A Hard Day’s Night’s crazy levels were topped, the film was not as well received – it does feel at times like a series of set farces with not an awful lot linking them together.

Lennon went on record as saying the guys felt like extras in their own movie. That said, it is considered like its predecessor to be highly influential on the modern music video, and of course, the soundtrack made up side one of their celebrated eponymous record.

Fact: During filming, the Beatles performed an impromptu set of their favourite 50s tunes for assistant director Clive Reed’s birthday. Director Richard Lester joined in on piano, making him one of the only people to have been a ‘fifth Beatle’ for an entire set.

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Give My Regards to Broad Street

This one is significant because it was written by McCartney. It is a 1984 musical drama film in which he also starred, along with Ringo, where they played themselves during a fictional day where Paul’s master tapes appear to have been stolen. It all feels a bit complacent, with poor acting and a cop-out ending, but the theatrical release did have one big positive: the film was preceded by the excellent animated short, Rupert and the Frog Song (the song in question being ‘We All Stand Together’, which reached #3).

Unfortunately the feature film was not of the same standard, which is perhaps why it was a bit of a flop. Its accompanying soundtrack sold well however, containing re-interpretations of McCartney’s previous classics. It was clear from this that he should really stick to music…

Fact: A video game of the film was released in 1985 for the Commodore 64 and Sinclair ZX Spectrum home computers, complete with 8-bit graphics. Rock Band eat your heart out…

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Simon James
Simon James
Simon is an entertainment writer based in Manchester. Favourite topics include theatre, superheroes and Oasis.

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