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


(director: Richard Lester; screenwriter: from the play by Ann Jellicoe/Charles Wood; cinematographer: David Watkin; editor: Antony Gibbs; music: John Barry/Alan Haven,songs; cast: Rita Tushingham (Nancy Jones), Ray Brooks (Tolen), Michael Crawford (Colin), Donal Donnelly (Tom), John Bluthal (Father), Wensley Pithey (Teacher); Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Oscar Lewenstein; MGM/UA Home Entertainment; 1965-UK)

“Embarrassingly crude and dated Swinging Sixties tale.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Embarrassingly crude and dated Swinging Sixties tale of London swinger Tolen (Ray Brooks) as the sophisticated mentor to his boardinghouse landlord, the socially backward teacher Colin (Michael Crawford). Another tenant, Tom (Donal Donnelly), is an artist who acts as a stabilizing influence. Richard Lester (“It’s Trad, Dad!”/”A Hard Day’s Night”/”How I Won the War”) energetically directs this oddball story as a slapstick comedy. It’s based on the play by Ann Jellicoe and the screenplay is by Charles Wood.

To improve his sex-starved dead love life, Colin decides to get a big brass bed. Tom helps him take it from the junkyard through the streets, where they meet country girl from the north Nancy Jones (Rita Tushingham) looking for directions to a YWCA. She gets distracted by the bed and hops a ride on it to their flat. At the boardinghouse Tolen demonstrates his romantic knack on the new broad until Colin is ready to take over. But the awkward Colin messes up and Nancy hops on Tolen’s motorcycle, where he takes her to the park for further wooing as they’re followed by Tom and Colin. Nancy passes out and when she wakes up, there’s Tom and Colin hovering over her with concern. She then accuses Tolen of rape, and the unglued Mr. Cool takes a powder while Colin takes over and befriends Nancy. The point made is that he’s at last learned “the knack.”

To cover its empty story, there’s the fast-paced editing style of television advertising, misogynistic comedy routines and plenty of frenzied sight gags. It has maybe a few funny moments, but most gags fizzle; what’s left is a mod style generational comedy for the new generation to take comfort in that there’s a sexual revolution afoot in London.

It took home the top prize, the Palm D’Or, at the Cannes Film Festival in 1965.