Things I Read Off the Screen in CATCH US IF YOU CAN

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THRILLS

I’ve had a built-in resistance to seeing CATCH US IF YOU CAN, aka HAVING A WILD WEEKEND, John Boorman’s first feature, starring the Dave Clark Five. “Surprisingly good,” say most reviews, before commenting on its unusually bleak quality. I was never tempted because A HARD DAY’S NIGHT holds a prominent place in my heart, and the DC5 are no substitute for the Fab 4.

But those reviews are accurate, and also the film is damned odd, a worthy debut for its maker, a visionary, or would-be visionary, whose visions have often taken him in quite curious directions. CUIYC/HAWW seems perversely calculated to avoid the upbeat charm of AHDN, and even when the action is occasionally fast or rambunctious, the tone is sour, or depressive, or grumpy or just flat.

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MEAT. GO!! GO!! GO!! MEAT FOR GO!!

The mild satiric impulses in Cliff Alun Owen’s Beatles script are amplified here to take in everything about the movie’s world. The DC5 play stuntmen, ludicrously referred to in the script as “stunt boys,” as if that were a thing. Mr. Dave Clark-Five himself runs off with a model, the latest face of British meat, Barbara Ferris, and her jealous boss plants a story in the press that she’s been kidnapped. The other band members are only occasionally along for the ride, and the script doesn’t bother to differentiate them at all, though several seem more interesting and up for it than Mr. Clark-Five. The few songs aren’t performed, they just turn up on the soundtrack, jostling for space with instrumentals by a uncredited John Coleman and the reliably melancholic Basil Kirchin (THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES).

So it’s mostly Ferris and Clark-Five on the road, failing to have adventures, get into scrapes, or meet extraordinary characters. Instead they mope, even at speed. But the movie is unexpectedly brilliant. Like LEO THE LAST, it feels like Boorman has spent his life in an entirely other England and is reporting back from this alien plane. It helps that Manny Wynn’s b&w cinematography is so gorgeous, and the wintry landscapes so well-chosen. The movie always looks as exquisite as a breaking heart.

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DANGEROUS BUILDING

One of many collapsing Boorman properties, from EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC to HOPE AND GLORY. And then there’s the trundling church in DELIVERANCE.

Guest stars turn up — a very naturalistic David Lodge, and a posh couple in Bath played by smarmy Robin Baily and acid Yootha Joyce, who at first seem intended to embody middle-class, middle-aged malaise, but turn out to be good sports. At a fancy dress event at the Roman baths, he has a good time as the Frankenstein monster (an emerging theme here at Shadowplay as we near Halloween) and she drags up as Chaplin, which OUGHT to be the scariest thing ever — imagining Yootha at her most corrosive, crossed with Gloria Swanson’s creepy Little Tramp act in SUNSET BLVD… but it’s oddly mild, since Yootha doesn’t bother doing any Chaplin schtick.

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GUY

The screenplay is by Peter Nichols (GEORGY GIRL, A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG) which grounds the whimsy, which was more than a little heavy already. There’s an encounter with ragged hippies, and Actual Drug References (Clark-Five has never heard the term “spliff,” apparently), and The Writing is already On The Wall as far as that lot are concerned. They are in awe of their mystical leader, a raddled drug casualty who drones garbled prophecies through his implausible facial hair, for this is Ronald Lacey, the bald Nazi from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.

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On the basis that pop fans were going to turn up for this anyway, no matter what the actual plot or tone consisted of, Nicholls and Boorman deserve credit for making something nobody would otherwise have commissioned, a glum picaresque of urban and rural England providing none of the expected chirpy pleasures and gloriously vague about what alternative delights we should be getting from its meandering maunderings. It’s pure Boorman, far closer to ZARDOZ, if you can believe that, than it is to any pop film before it.

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H.M.S. DANDY

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15 Responses to “Things I Read Off the Screen in CATCH US IF YOU CAN”

  1. Vanwall Green Says:

    Excellent analysis of a curiosity – altho I liked this since I was a wee lad, it had a bit of the later “I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘Isnamine” vibe to it. It didn’t try too hard to be liked either.

  2. Howard Curtis Says:

    I think it was Alun Own who scripted AHDN…

  3. Howard Curtis Says:

    Sorry, Owen.

  4. Yes, thanks! Had to look up who the heck Cliff Owen was — directing of variable Brit comedies.

    The uningratiating tone definitely helps distinguish this, and the fact that Mr Clark Five seems like he’d rather be elsewhere kind of works for it.

  5. Pauline Kael was one of the few who raved about this film when it came out. She very much appreciated the fact that it wasn’t a rip-off of AHDN but something entirely different.

  6. Lester always liked it when he DIDN’T get stolen from. When Coppola made You’re a Big Boy Now, he felt that was a perfectly legitimate, original response to some story situations that were bound to lead to a similarly ludic quality. On the other hand, he’s never much cared for the Monkees.

  7. … which is my cue to post surely one of the most impressive screentest chats ever. Mike Nesmith knows where it’s at. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63nhSFFFfJ4

  8. Wow! Forceful personality! Almost Robert Blake level. He was always the most interesting one to me…

  9. henryholland666 Says:

    I was a little too young for Beatlemania and the British Invasion, but I was 7 when “The Monkees” showed up. First record ever bought with my own money: “Monkee’s Headquarters”. They had a great run of pop hits including this song by Goffin/King:

    I wish I liked HEAD better than I do, but I think the people involved taking less drugs would have been a good idea.

    I know the DC5 movie as “Having a Wild Weekend”. It wasn’t what I was expecting the one time I saw it, it’s far grittier as I thought it would be more in line with mediocre cash-in movies by Herman’s Hermits or Cliff Richard, for example.

    BTW David, I was reading about The Beatles songwriting on this great website:

    http://beatlessongwriting.blogspot.com/

    In the entry about the song “Yesterday” was this that got a good laugh from me:

    “The bridge was pure craft – hammered away on piano during every break in the filming of Help! to the point of driving director Richard Lester nuts”

    Go Paul! :-)

  10. Explains why Yesterday isn’t used in the film — written too late, and aversion therapy performed on the director during shoot. Otherwise, you might question Lester’s judgement in excluding one of McCartney’s best numbers — but it’s hard to see how it could fit into such a fast, fun film.

    I don’t know if Head got that way through drugs or through a rejection of traditional forms and a desire by the band to self-destruct the Monkees’ image. The latter ambition worked quite well.

  11. henryholland666 Says:

    Yes, the movie was never going to appeal to hippies at the time (though it did become a stoner cult item later) for whom The Monkees were beneath contempt or the band’s teenybopper fanbase who *did* want a recreation of “A Hard Day’s Night”. As a movie length career suicide note though, it worked a treat.

  12. The Davey Jones number with the black and white strobing sets/costumes is marvelous. I don’t remember any of the other song sequences…

  13. Doesn’t CUIYC end up at Burgh Island, a small island off the coast of Devon where Agatha Christie is supposed to have written or planned the novel now known as And Then There Were None…?

    It’s only cut off from the mainland at high tide, and you make the crossing in a sort of high tractor with monstertruck wheels. I spent Christmas there once in the 1980s. The only things on the island are a rather chilly Art Deco hotel and a pub called the Pilchard Inn.

    I always thought it would be a good setting for the start of a British version of L’avventura.

  14. I was just going to say, yes, that is an extraordinary number. A thunderingly moving celebration of an anxiety Jones could never quite hide. And Toni “Hey Mickee” Basil as his partner.

  15. Anne, yes, and maybe Boorman has used that setting for the END of a British L’Avventura?

    Boorman shares with Antonioni a love of painting the world into colour-coordinated stylised dreamscapes. Point Blank is almost as retouched as The Red Desert and Blow Up, and in Where the Heart Is he paints the cast too.

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