“A Hard Day’s Night,” which was released 50 years ago this week, was never expected to be a hit. In fact one of the United Artists film executives who supervised its release frankly predicted that the studio would lose money on the film—a slapped-together black-and-white faux-documentary about four mop-topped musicians—but it was fine because it was just advertising for the sure-thing soundtrack anyway. He was wrong, of course. “A Hard Day’s Night” went on to become a huge international box office smash and, to the astonishment of everyone, filmmakers and Beatles included, a critical favorite. The Village Voice’s pioneering auteurist Andrew Sarris declared it “The Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals,” a formulation that marked the birth of a beloved critical cliche (“the ‘Citizen Kane’ of [Type of Movie]) as well as the ascension of Richard Lester into the pantheon of important ’60s directors. And he was indeed important.
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