I have been in love with Swinging London since I was a child. In those years I have decided there are two quintessential films about that time and place. One is Blowup (1966). The other is The Knack...and How to Get It (1965). What is remarkable is that no two movies could be more different. Blowup is a very serious examination of the darker side of Swinging London. The Knack...and How to Get It is a comedic look at the Swinging London, more precisely the Sexual Revolution as it took place there.
That The Knack...and How to Get It could be considered one of the quintessential movies about Swinging London should come as no surprise. It was directed by Richard Lester, who also directed The Beatles' movies A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965). Having captured the spirit of Swinging London so well in those two movies, it is to be expected that he should be able to catch in the film he made in between them.
The Knack...and How to Get It was based on the play by Ann Jelicose, although Mr. Lester made major changes in bringing it to the screen. Indeed, he brought the same style he used on The Beatles' movies to The Knack...and How to Get It. Characters break the fourth wall, and there are both humorous titles and some rather surreal sequences. In addition to these elements present in The Beatles movies, Mr. Lester added a Greek chorus of London's older generations, often expressing their disapproval of the younger generation.
The Knack...and How to Get It has two basic strengths. The first is its cast. Rita Tushingham, a mainstay in Swinging London, plays Nancy Jones, a naive Northern girl who finds herself in the big city for the first time. Michael Crawford, years before he originated the lead role in the musical version The Phantom of the Opera, played Colin, a rather high strung teacher. He is not only frustrated in his love life, but in his job as well. Ray Brooks played Tolen, a womaniser who plays drums. Tolen may well be a Mod, although he is never called such in the film. He dresses impeccably and listens to Thelonius Monk. Of course, he also rides an Ariel Arrow--a motorcycle, which seems an odd choice for a Mod to ride (the motorscooter was their chosen mode of transport). Donal Donnelly plays Tom, a rather eccentric artist. Indeed, he cannot resist painting and redoing any place he lives in. The cast brings these four characters to life quite well, and it is through them that the changing sexual morality in England in the Sixties is examined.
The movie's strength is Richard Lester's direction. Any single frame of The Knack...and How to Get It could make a good photograph. What is more, the film is filled with the sort of surreal sequences, funny titles, and humorous asides found in both Beatles movies, although to a greater extreme than either. Indeed, although A Hard Day's Night is often cited as an influence on the TV series The Monkees and hence rock video, it seems to me that it The Knack...and How to Get It and Help! were far greater influences.
Added to the appeal of The Knack...and How to Get It is the fact that it was filmed on location in London. Colin's house was one located at 1 Melrose Terrace at Shepherd’s Bush Road in London.Victoria Coach Station on Buckingham Palace Road also puts in an appearance, as do some well known sites. There is Buckingham Palace and the Royal Albert Hall. Most of the street scenes were filmed along Shepherd's Bush Road and Notting Hill Gate.Seeing London as it was in the mid-Sixties is much of what makes the film enjoyable.
While The Knack...and How to Get It is one of my favourite films, I do have to warn viewers that this film is largely a product of its time. Although there is very little that I would consider objectionable in the film, I must admit that the film has some attitudes of the early to middle Sixties that most people (including myself) would find objectionable.
Although dated at times, The Knack...and How to Get It is a very enjoyable fun. It is funny, intelligent, and captures a time and place in a way few other films could.