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Knack ...and How to Get It, The (1965)

Main image of Knack ...and How to Get It, The (1965)
35mm, black and white, 84 mins
DirectorRichard Lester
Production CompanyWoodfall Film Productions
ProducerOscar Lewenstein
ScreenplayCharles Wood
Original PlayAnn Jellicoe
CinematographyDavid Watkin
MusicJohn Barry

Cast: Rita Tushingham (Nancy); Ray Brooks (Tolen); Michael Crawford (Colin); Donal Donnelly (Tom)

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Young schoolteacher Colin is desperate to learn the secret of his lodger's knack with women.

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Ann Jellicoe's play The Knack was staged at the Royal Court Theatre in 1962. Philip Locke played Colin, James Bolam was Tom and Julian Glover was Tolen. Rita Tushingham appeared as Nancy, as she does in the film.

In the play, Tom's role was to puncture the illusions of the other characters. In playwright Charles Wood's screenplay, Tom is reduced to the quartet's weakest character. His role of commentator on the action transfers to a series of slightly surreal 'vox box' interviews with the bemused older generation, who cluck disapprovingly over the excesses of the young.

For all of Lester's dazzling filmic tricks, one theatrical element remains - Tom's all-white room, which summons up the 'white box' from Peter Brook's stage production. It is presaged in the film's opening credit sequence, Colin's dream of an endless line of blonde girls in white dresses. Lester mischievously has each of them individualized in some way - using chest expanders, swallowing oysters, applying perfume to ankles, or sticking trading stamps into a book.

Lester employs more of the style he first demonstrated in his Peter Sellers film, The Running, Jumping, Standing Still Film (1960), and then with the Beatles in A Hard Day's Night (1964) - lots of quick sight gags and shot repetition, verbal jokes, chase sequences and slapstick.

A comparison may be made with Georgy Girl (d. Silvio Narizanno, 1966). Once again we have two housemates, one cool, one not, but this time they are men. Nancy is a female Jos, drawn initially to the glamourous Tolen, but falling in love with the duller Colin, just as, in Georgy Girl, Jos (Alan Bates) is drawn to Meredith (Charlotte Rampling) before shifting his affections to Georgy (Lynn Redgrave). Michael Crawford, meanwhile, tries out the accident-prone persona he later embodied as Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em (BBC, 1973-78).

The film is also another example of the obsession with British youth culture which was demonstrated by Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush (d. Clive Donner, 1967). Like the hero of that film, Tolen is finally outmanoeuvred by a woman. Tushingham's Nancy is a strong 1960s figure - like Georgy, she does not conform to the social norm, but is witty and funny and warm.

Janet Moat

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Video Clips
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Barry, John (1933-2011)
Crawford, Michael (1942-)
Gibbs, Antony
Lester, Richard (1932-)
Nichols, Dandy (1907-1986)
Tushingham, Rita (1942-)
Wood, Charles (1932-)