The Knack...And How To Get It Review
If the Square Mile in London is thought to have an influence over the financial state of the country that is far out of line with its size then the short length of Carnaby Street is equally at fault for having impressed upon the nation that the sixties were swinging. Indeed, despite there being eyewitness accounts of 'happenings' and 'be-ins', the credibility of these reports are dented somewhat by having Cilla Black, Lulu and Sandie Shaw involved in the telling of them, all of whom suggest nothing as much as a, at that time, younger version of your mother, in a slightly shorter skirt, holding tight to a lager top whilst listening disapprovingly to a story about a friend of 'this one friend' who may have smoked 'mar-gee-wana'.
Instead of it being swinging, the sixties looks to have been a glum, old decade in which a thin veneer of daring experimentation has been applied through hindsight to all and sundry. Take The Knack...And How To Get It, having been made in the sixties by director Richard Lester - also responsible for A Hard Day's Night and Help!, both starring The Beatles - it has gathered something of the swinging sixties about it despite it, on account of featuring Michael Crawford in the starring role, appearing closer to the teenage adventures of Frank Spencer. "Oooh, Betty!", hardly being the stuff of revolution that those who were there would like us to believe it was.
Colin (Crawford) is the star of The Knack...And How To Get It, playing to type as an uptight and nervous teacher, who is unskilled in the ways of seduction. His flatmate, Tolen (Brooks), is Colin's opposite - a confident womaniser - who passes Colin's room each day with another young lady on his arm, infuriating the increasingly frustrated teacher. When Colin asks Tolen for advice on achieving 'the knack', he is put on a quick course to hone his skills with the ladies. All of this, however, comes to naught and Colin, along with new housemate Tom (Donnelly), simply sets out across London to find a bigger bed, believing that to be the cause of his troubles. Along the way, Colin picks up Nancy (Tushingham) and equipped with a king sized bed but an inability to speak to her, he finds that he is quickly pushed aside by Tolen in the conquest of Nancy. Things go awry, however, when Nancy faints following a kiss from Tolen and, believing that she has been raped, screams at her accuser through the otherwise quiet streets of suburbia.
In writing this review, I watched The Knack a number of times and have yet to decide on exactly the type of film that it is. On one hand, it is easy to see it how there are the clumsy beginnings of the things that would eventually constitute what we commonly believe to be the sixties with there being some acknowledgement of a greater promiscuity and, as such, The Knack may be a strident example of filmmaking that was completely in touch with the young audience for whom it was intended.
But it's really all too grim for that, what with Ray Brooks being more of a spiv or a geezer that a fledgling hippie. Not to mention the sex being all wrong for the era, being both prudish and sleazy when seen from the points of view of Colin and Tolen, respectively, both of whom bear a greater resemblance to teenagers of the fifties than of the sixties. In which case, Rita Tushingham's cries of rape in the final quarter or so of the film are no more than an attempt to shock the audience into laughter, which, again, is out of step with the time.
Then again, The Knack may well have been made by a team of filmmakers unprepared for the changes that were going to take place, bringing Crawford and Brooks' characters out of the decade before and thinking, entirely wrongly in retrospect, that the two characters could cut it in sixties London. Again, though, the sex is really what gives it away, with Tushingham's cries of rape being an uncomfortable reminder of a time when a woman reporting rape would have been given a cup of hot, sugary tea and told to get back home or, were she married, that it was her husband's right to rape her should he want to.
By understanding that teenage generations are roughly two-to-three years apart, the problem with The Knack is that it and director Richard Lester belong to a generation of the late-fifties, more The Goon Show than Monty Python. Lester had actually worked with The Goon Show's Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan on 1959's The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film and he followed it up with 1962's It's Trad, Dad!, which starred Helen Shapiro, Acker Bilk, Arthur Mullard and Derek Nimmo, before working with The Beatles on A Hard Day's Night and, following The Knack, Help! Despite them being generally well-regarded, even Lester's films with The Beatles look a generation away from those made by The Rolling Stones during the late-sixties and early-seventies, such as 1968's One Plus One, 1970's Gimme Shelter and 1972's Cocksucker Blues. Where a natural style of filmmaking came to the fore in the late-sixties, as in One Plus One, which featured take after take of The Rolling Stones recording Sympathy For The Devil, Lester's style on The Knack is one of endless visual trickery, which is as much a gimmick for the cinema as the wordplay of The Goons was to the radio.
The contrast between The Knack, made in 1965, and Blow Up, made the following year, is remarkable and illustrates why I lean towards the latter interpretation. Made by Michelangelo Antonioni, Blow Up is a gloriously colourful view of moments in London, in which David Hemmings' photographer indulges in a threesome, may be a witness to a murder and visits a club where The Yardbirds, featuring a pre-Zeppelin Jimmy Page, are playing. That The Velvet Underground were Antonioni's first choice makes the film that bit more impressive. The Knack, on the other hand, is a grim little film that has the ghost of the post-war era running through it. There are nods to what you imagine might have been the swinging sixties but making them looks like it was uncomfortable. Indeed, Blow Up, despite being the more formally structured film, now has a looseness about that that The Knack, with its stagey and affected dialogue, clearly lacks.
But Blow Up, Alfie and The Italian Job, despite looking wonderful even today, did not herald in a decade of swinging filmmaking. Instead, as the sixties turned into the seventies, we enjoyed Love Thy Neighbour, Mind Your Language, George And Mildred, On The Buses and The Benny Hill Show before the alternative comedy of the early eighties moved things on again but, in turn, created its own problems, such as an overbearing smugness amongst its performers. And that is why, between Blow Up and The Knack, it is the latter that closer to the television and film comedies that were produced over the subsequent decade, with Michael Crawford's double entendres regarding the size of his bed being the same sort of thing that we'd have heard from Reg Varney's Stan on On The Buses.
That, however, is no reason to treasure The Knack...And How To Get It as a key piece of filmmaking, in as much as On The Buses is not a fondly-remembered television sitcom. And Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane was held off the number one spot by Engelbert Humperdinck's Release Me. Memories can be deceptive and despite it being off the time and marketed as such, The Knack is not really of the swinging sixties of legend but is, I suspect, closer to the real thing. That, however, is no recommendation and as the sales of Engelbert Humperdinck falls some way behind those of The Beatles, it is a feeling that appears to be commonplace.
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 but non-anamorphically, the black-and-white picture of The Knack looks good during close-ups but lacks definition, appearing blurry in wide shots. The original mono soundtrack sounds to have been transferred to a 2.0 Mono English audio track and fares better than the picture, with there being good reproduction of both the quieter scenes of dialogue and the louder, jazz score over which passers-by in London provide a chorus of asides and comments.
There are no extras included on this release of The Knack.