Arts

Cult Movie: The Knack And How To Get It showcases Woodfall impact on 60s cinema

Jane Birken and Ray Brooks in The Knack And How To Get It

OVER the past couple of weeks I've been digging deep into 'Woodfall: A Revolution In British Cinema', the new BFI boxset celebrating the importance that small production company had on the development of UK cinema in the first half of the 1960s.

For this final glimpse into the wonderful world of Woodfall I've dug out the last disc from the collection, a film that stands apart from the bleaker, more kitchen sink style of production that the company made its name with.

The Knack And How To Get It (1965) has, on its shiny monochrome surface at least, got a lot going for it. It's directed by Richard Lester, the American who imbued The Beatles two mid-60s films, A Hard Days Night (64) and Help! (65), with such madcap magic.

In the lead roles it boasts an early example of the natural comic skills of a young Michael Crawford, a full decade before he would achieve TV comedy immortality as the hapless Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do Ave Em, and it's got a memorable turn from Rita Tushingham, who regularly played the 'northern innocent' in films of this era. Both are excellent.

Its got a slinky John Barry score that captures a neat jazzy cool that fits the modish visuals of Lester's film perfectly. It even has a key role for that very fine actor Ray Brooks who will forever be known, in my house at least, as the man who narrated the Mr Benn animations in the 1970s. In other words, it's a film practically drowning in cult credibility.

Such important considerations aside it's also a film with a few negative sides to consider as well. Released bang in the middle of the swinging decade, it feels on the very cusp of the so-called sexual revolution and therefore many of its proclamations about free love and the like can sound occasionally cringeworthy and, on a couple of notable occasions, downright offensive to modern-day eyes and ears.

Crawford is Colin, a gormless and loveless teacher, who shares a flat with Tolen (Brooks), a cool jazz drummer and habitual womaniser. When Rita Tushingham's bluff northerner Nancy arrives on the scene looking for somewhere to stay Colin turns to Tolen for advice on how to “get the knack” for making her his.

A zany, knockabout 60s comedy packed with trademark Lester moments, from crazy inner monologues and surrealist montage sequences, The Knack feels like a time capsule for an era that's long gone.

Crawford and Tushingham are charming and naive figures but Tolen's character is cold and deeply misogynistic. Like many a hip 60s groovy movie, it is nowhere near as clever as it would like you to think it is and the passing of time and the changing of attitudes have left it severely lacking in real laugh-out-loud moments.

As a lively little mod movie about relationships in the swinging 60s, though, The Knack remains something that's well worth getting.

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