Saturday, September 25, 2021

Catch Us If You Can (1965)

In late 1963 the United Kingdom was overwhelmed by Beatlemania. In the wake of The Beatles' success, other beat bands came to prominence. Among these bands was The Dave Clark Five, for a brief time considered The Beatles' chief rivals. The Dave Clark Five would hit no. 1 on the UK singles chart with "Glad All Over" and then no. 2 on the UK singles chart with "Bits and Pieces." While The Dave Clark Five would not repeat this success in the United Kingdom, they proved extremely popular in the United States, where they would ultimately have 10 top ten hits on the Billboard Hot 100. It was quite natural, then, that following the release of The Beatles' movie A Hard Day's Night (1964) The Dave Clark Five would star in their own movie.

While at the time other movies starring British rock bands simply imitated The Beatles' movies A Hard Day's Night and Help! (1965) or, at the very least , the movies of Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard, The DC5's movie Catch Us If You Can (1965) was something entirely different. The Dave Clark Five do not play a band, but instead a crew of stuntmen. At no point in the movie do they play instruments or sing songs, so it is difficult to even say it is even a British rock musical. In fact, Dave Clark's character is named "Steve," although the rest of the band get to use their own names. Catch Us If You Can is further set apart from other movies starring British rock bands in that Dave Clark is definitely the star of the movie, with rest of The DC5 playing supporting roles. This is a sharp contrast to The Beatles' movies, in which The Beatles more or less share the spotlight together.

What is more, while other movies starring British rock bands, including The Beatles' films, are comedies, Catch Us If You Can is an at times dark satire. Indeed, more than one critic described the movie as "melancholy." In Catch Us If You Can The Dave Clark Five play a crew of stuntmen. It is while filming a commercial for the advertising campaign "Meat to Go" that Steve becomes disenchanted with his job. He bonds with the young actress, model, and "Meat to Go" poster girl, Dinah (Barbara Ferris), who has also become disillusioned with her work. The two then flee in a Jaguar for Burgh Island. They are pursued by the police, publicists, and journalists. In the meantime the advertising agency behind the "Meat to Go" campaign decide to milk the incident for publicity, cooking up a fake story about Dinah having been kidnapped. Catch Us if You Can often seems less like a vehicle for a rock band than it does an attack on advertising and consumerism, and an examination of the difficulty of remaining authentic and the meaning of success.

If it might seem odd for a band to be named for their drummer,  Dave Clark was not The DC5's was the driving force in the band. He was also The Dave Clark Five's manager and controlled nearly every aspect of the band's career. There can be no doubt that he had a good deal of input into the movie. Indeed, Dave Clark had worked as a stuntman. It was reportedly Dave Clark who chose John Boorman to direct the film, marking his feature film debut. Mr. Boorman had directed television documentaries and had been the head of the BBC's Documentary Unit in Bristol. He would go onto direct Deliverance (1972) and Excalibur (1981). The script was written by Peter Nichols, who had worked extensively in television.

While Dave Clark was definitely the star of Catch Us If You Can, the other members of The Dave Clark Five did get their moments in the spotlight. This was particularly true of guitarist Lenny Davidson. Throughout the entire film Lenny Davidson does not get to say a word as someone else interrupts him before he even has a chance to speak. At the Arts Ball costume party in the movie he even comes as Harpo Marx. Of course, to stay in character, he can't speak. 

Catch Us If You Can was released in the United Kingdom on July 15 1965. In the United States, for some odd reason, it was retitled Having a Wild Weekend. While "Having a Wild Weekend" was a song in the movie, it was not the movie's single in the United Kingdom or the United States (that was "Catch Us If You Can") and would never be released as a single. One can only assume that some American marketer decided that Having a Wild Weekend was a better title. Regardless, it was released in the US on August 18 1965.

Catch Us If You Can did not perform particularly well at the box office in the United Kingdom. It did not even perform well in the United States, where The DC5 were much more popular. The film received mixed to positive reviews from critics. Pauline Kael gave the movie a somewhat positive review, stating that it was " of those films that linger in the memory." Bosley Crowther also gave Catch Us If You Can a positive review, calling it a "..fresh and fetching British film." While Pauline Kael and Bosley Crowther liked the film, Dwight MacDonald did not. Writing in Esquire, he said of Catch Us If You Can, "The photography and the direction are atrocious, the jokes painful, the structure really chaotic, the spontaneity arthritic, and The Dave Clark Five remarkably uncharming and unwitty." Of cousre, in defence of The DC5, it must be pointed out that Mr. MacDonald hated The Beatles' Help! as well.

Rock music changed rapidly as the Sixties progressed. And while many of the early beat bands kept pace with these changes, The Dave Clark Five did not. By 1967 The DC5, whose success was once close to that of The Beatles in the US, were passée. In the years since Dave Clark , who controlled the band's catalogue, did not make their recordings available except in the occasional compilation. The end result has been that The Dave Clark Five, once regarded as rivals to The Beatles, have largely been forgotten. Catch Us If You Can is now remembered by many as the directorial debut of John Boorman. That having been said, it is a remarkable movie that stands apart form other Sixties movies starring rock bands. In many ways it is a forerunner to the darker films about Swinging London that emerged in the mid-Sixties, including Blowup (1967). It is certainly well worth checking out, particularly for fans of British music of the Sixties or movies about Swinging London.


Caftan Woman said...

My curiosity has certainly been piqued. The Dave Clark Five have a spot in the nostalgic corner of my brain while attacks on consumerism occupy a fresher spot in my brain. I appreciate having something "new" to consider.

Also, thanks for hosting this blogathon each year. I look forward to it.

Brian Schuck said...

Thanks for host this great blogathon-- it's been a lot of fun!

I remember the Dave Clark Five well, and my brother had a couple of their singles (I didn't start collecting records until a few years later). Their story is certainly typical of a lot of bands at the time -- a short period of success, then infighting and/or the creative well running dry. The rare sustained success requires constant reinvention. It also seems that in the case of the DC5, one dominating band member-manager has the seeds of destruction built in - if that person doesn't make the right calls, the whole group suffers.

The movie certainly seems an oddity and a bit of a self-indulgent vanity project for Mr. Clark. Not building it around the music seems boneheaded in the extreme. It's no wonder it didn't do well. Although getting grudging positive reviews from both Pauline Kael and Bosley Crowther is a rare accomplishment!

Unknown said...

The other day, TCM showed another British band's film, "Hold On!" (1966) with Herman's Hermits. Later singer Peter Noone (the "Herman") later did some theater work, but it honestly wasn't much of a movie.

Silver Screenings said...

This sounds like an interesting film, even if it ain't perfect. I'm looking forward to it.

And thank you for hosting the blogathon. It's always a great time!