DIRECTED by Richard Lester
PRODUCED by Oscar Lewenstein
SCREENPLAY by Charles Wood
BASED ON A PLAY by Ann Jellicoe
ORIGINAL MUSIC by John Barry
CINEMATOGRAPHY by David Watkin
PRODUCTION DESIGN by Assheton Gorton
This is certainly the quirkiest selection on my list. Few people have heard of The Knack, (The Knack, and How to Get It, is the tacked-on US release title), and I’m not even sure it would make Richard Lester’s Top 10 list of his own films. But what the heck. This is my list; make your own, and put your own obscure film nobody else likes on it. You’ll be surprised how good it makes you feel.
It’s 1965. It’s black & white, like A Hard Day’s Night, Lester’s previous film. Michael Crawford (in his pre-Phantom of the Opera days, back when he was a lanky, awkward, high-pitched nerd), is Colin, who wants to get laid. His roommate is Tolen (one name, “Like Mantovani,” Nancy observes), who literally has women lined up on the stairs for admittance to his bedroom. He is planning to get all his women together to adore him, and figures the Albert Hall will be about the right size. If Tolen were any cooler, he’d freeze solid. Colin wants Tolen to let him in on the secret of how to get babes.
Awkward, not very pretty country girl from Cardiff, Nancy Jones (Rita Tushingham), comes to swingin’ Mods ‘n’ Rockers Carnaby Street London looking for the YWCA. She gets entangled with Colin and Tolen. Nancy turns out to be the one babe Tolen can’t get. Colin gets her. End of story.
With Lester, it’s often more about how the story is told. He got his early training in television and commercials, and was innovative there. The Beatles picked him because he had a twisted sense of humor and could be as outrageous as they were. He is willing to use anything to punctuate his story, including editing effects like stop motion and running the film backwards. He wants you to always be aware you’re watching a movie. In A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum there is a musical number, “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid,” where Phil Silvers, Zero Mostel, Jack Gilford, and Michael Hordern are singing and dancing in a chorus line. The camera moves to the side, then slightly behind them, and we see the empty streets they are playing to.
The play, which I’ve never seen, is full of that sort of dialogue Brits are so good at, where they make one or two words stand for whole sentences. All through the film oldsters on the street are commenting on the scandalous behavior.
What The Knack is best at is reveling in the new freedom of the 1960s. Nothing was impossible, anything was worth a try. This film takes me back there more than anything except the music of the Beatles themselves.