It only takes one film where everything just comes together perfectly to propel a director’s career into the next level. That hit gives the filmmaker greater possibilities to do new and different things. For director Richard Lester, that film was “A Hard Days Night.” It’s not just one of the great rock films, but a great film period. Of course, Lester would also direct the Beatles’ 2nd film, “Help!,” but there was one film that came in between. It’s a very sixties, very British, (sort-of) comedy…1965’s ”The Knack…and How to Get It.”
The film concerns the residents of a London flat. The owner/landlord is an awkward schoolteacher named Colin (pre-Phantom Michael Crawford) who struggles with meeting women. His flatmate is the mod Tolen (Ray Brooks), who literally has scores of gorgeous women, with zombie-like blank expressions, lined up outside his room. They are soon joined by a third renter, Tom (Donal Donelly), who was recently kicked out by his previous landlady due to his obsession with painting everything white. Meanwhile, a young lady, Nancy (Rita Tushingham), has just arrived in London by bus and is wandering town in search of the YWCA.
Growing more and more frustrated over his lack of female companionship, Colin asks Tolen to start giving him some pointers. Tolen seems to only half-heartedly go along with it. Eventually, Collin determines that one thing he must do is get a bigger bed. Tom accompanies him to a junkyard where they find a large, but beat up bed frame. There they also run into Nancy, still looking for the Y. She helps them push the bed back to the flat in a montage that is somewhat reminiscent of sequences from “A Hard Days Night,” and which, in all honesty, goes on a bit too long.
When they get back to the flat, they find the bed is too big to get up the stairs to Collin’s room. Then, enter Tolen, who becomes enraged with the bed blocking the hall. Strange conversations about everything from sex to lion taming follow as the film goes in some bizarre directions. Before long, both Colin and Tolen are competing for Nancy’s attention.
In 1965, “The Knack…and How to Get It” ended up winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. I’m really scratching my head over that one. The film is intriguing and, at times, entertaining. However, it also doesn’t have a very consistent approach to the material. The film is based on a play and that really does show in some sequences. The scene where the four primary characters are finally all together at the flat definitely feels like we’re watching a stage production. The snappy, fast-paced, stylized British dialogue also adds to that feel. There are some moments of the script that come through as quite clever, and others that just roll by so quickly that it’s hard not to feel lost.
At other times, however, Lester takes a completely different approach to the film. There are moments where it feels like he’s going for slapstick comedy. In one scene, Nancy fights with a row of bus station lockers with doors that randomly pop open and suitcases sliding out for no apparent reason. A surveyor falls into a manhole in another scene, and Colin even tries to follow Tolen’s boat by quickly putting on some water skis in another. Of course, he ends up sinking. Considering the more serious turn the film takes as it progresses, these moments are awkward and really out of place. This struggle to keep a consistent tone is something I have noted in other Lester films…”Superman III” comes to mind.
Where the film does succeed, though, is visually. Lester manages to show a lot of creativity in his use of the camera. It does help keep the film somewhat compelling. Lester does add in a few other odd touches throughout the film; some of which work, some of which don’t. One bizarre sequence involves Colin nailing a board across the front door to keep it shut. As he does this, the names of each of the different tools he uses flash on the screen. I’m not exactly sure why, but it’s kind of quirky fun. There are also several bits that involve a running commentary by a greek chorus of sorts made up of stuffy elderly Brits complaining about the younger generation. This I found to be an unnecessary distraction.
“The Knack…and How to Get It” may have been a big award winner in it’s day, but it is a film that struggles to stand the test of time. It certainly has it’s moments, but both of Lester’s collaborations with the Beatles are far better films.