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A pivotal and fondly-remembered scene in Richard Lester's A Hard Day's Night (1964) has George Harrison wandering in a television production complex and stumbling into a meeting of advertising executives discussing the popularity of their product's TV spokesmodel. Harrison blithely tells the marketing exec, "She's a well-known drag. We turn the sound down on her and say rude things." One of the many films inspired by the success of the first Beatles movie was Having a Wild Weekend (1965, aka Catch Us If You Can), built around the London-based band The Dave Clark Five. Writer Peter Nichols and director John Boorman (in his feature debut) fashioned an entire film which similarly draws a moustache on the advertising game, but which also delves deep into the reaction of the young and famous as they are being drawn into the commercialization of youth culture itself. This theme, not always handled with subtlety, results in a remarkably melancholy film - nothing like the celebration of pop music and culture one might expect just at the dawn of the emergence of "Swinging London" as a focus of worldwide attention.
Having a Wild Weekend deviates from the model of A Hard Day's Night in one key regard: The Dave Clark Five do not play themselves in the film, and in fact do not even play musicians. Dave Clark himself had been a movie stuntman early in his career, and this tidbit seems to be the jumping off point for the plot fashioned by playwright Nichols. The film opens as Steve (Clark) and his stunt crew (the other members of The Dave Clark Five: Mike Smith, Denis West Payton, Rick Huxley, and Lenny Davidson) are awakened in their cavernous flat (a converted church) by a huge pipe organ rigged to work as an alarm clock. Plastered around London neighborhoods and buildings - even crumbling ones slated for demolition - is the inane smiling portrait of model Dinah (Barbara Ferris) and the tagline MEAT FOR GO!! As Lenny (Lenny Davidson) and his fellow advertising executives meet in a high-rise to discuss the consumer reaction to the current campaign on behalf of the Meat Promotion Council, Dinah tells Steve about an island she has just bought. Disillusioned while shooting a commercial inside a meat market, Steve drives Dinah away from the location in a convertible E-Type Jaguar, determined to chuck their responsibilities and "take the day off." The first thing they do is stop by a large Meat sign posted on a building so Dinah can hop out of the car and draw glasses and a mustache on her own image.
Steve and Dinah have a series of adventures in their attempt to escape their status as disposable figureheads to make mundane products "hip and happening." The pair drives out to the West Country to Bath and its surroundings, sometimes with the other stuntmen in tow. The suits back in London hit upon the publicity-generating idea of claiming that Dinah was kidnapped, and soon the police are in pursuit as well. The adventures that unfold are done in a variety of styles by director Boorman, who cut his teeth as a BBC documentarian. The youngsters encounter a group of society dropouts at one point; these proto-hippies exist in abandoned and broken work buildings, smoke pot, and crave more senses-numbing hard drugs. Before Steve and Dinah can properly react, they must all flee because of oncoming tanks; the Army is conducting war games in the vicinity - little "escape," as it turns out, from the "Marketing is War" mindset in London. On the road to Bath our pair is picked up by an odd married couple, Nan and Guy (Yootha Joyce and Robin Bailey), who enjoy the "freedom" of their leisure-class life which is littered with their collections of relics and gadgets from previous eras. The set piece in this segment is an elaborate cinephile costume party in which the faddish upper crust dresses as the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Frankenstein's Monster, Harpo Marx, and Jean Harlow, before collapsing into the ancient Roman baths. While the antics of our heroes may seem kooky on the surface, there is an underlying melancholy infusing the proceedings; the bittersweet "escape" of the protagonists reaches a downbeat conclusion upon their arrival at Dinah's island.
Critical notices at the time of release were mixed. The reviewer for Variety was lukewarm, writing, "Apparently producer David Deutsch's idea was to try for the same success formula that made A Hard Day's Night more than just a film about a rock 'n' roll group. He hasn't been too successful in trying to turn the Dave Clark Five into actors but has, as cinematic insurance, packed enough action into his 'chase' film to keep older members of the audience from squirming." Bosley Crowther of the New York Times had been utterly charmed by the Beatles film (as most older critics were) and found much to admire in the newest British Invasion film as well. Calling it "fresh and fetching," Crowther acknowledges, "It is not the same sort of picture. Where the Beatles' film was, in a sense, a galloping surrealistic satire on the phenomenon of themselves and their fans, this one is an almost wistful romance, laced with surrealistic farce, about the eagerness of overexposed young showfolk to get away from it all and find some peace."
Later observers have similarly been split on Having a Wild Weekend; Bruce Eder, in Hollywood Rock: A Guide to Rock 'n' Roll in the Movies, called the picture "a sobering answer to A Hard Day's Night, showing a seldom-seen dark side of Swinging London and its denizens. ...It's a real movie, in which rock music plays just a small, but important, part. John Boorman's directorial style is more graceful than Richard Lester's was in the Beatles' film, and there is less reliance on quick cuts and short takes. This is understandable because Dave Clark, who made his living as a stuntman when he wasn't playing music, is a natural in front of the camera. Not that he's any actor, but between him and the cast of seasoned performers surrounding him, Boorman was able to build a real story." Pauline Kael (in 5001 Nights at the Movies) found the film lacking, writing that "its tone is uneven, its style is faltering and somewhat confused, but it's trying to get at something. It's trying to be a success and to question the meaning of success - and inevitably fails on both counts." Kael notes that the protagonists "...look at various escape routes from modern commercialism: drugs, antique collecting, yearning for an island...[but] the movie seems to discover tentatively, with regret and bewilderment, that the cures are illusory, are only more symptoms." Kael concludes, however, that "it is one of those films that linger in the memory."
Since The Dave Clark Five do not play musicians in Having a Wild Weekend, the film barely seems to qualify as a "rock movie" in the usual sense. The movie certainly didn't please fans of the group as a result, so it falters on the surface level as a filmic memento of the second biggest British band of 1964. The aim of Nichols and Boorman to produce a study of fame and commercialism was more successful, and yet the true deconstruction of the pop group movie would have to wait until Bob Rafelson's Head, the feature film in which Rafelson and The Monkees turn the notion of a "rock movie" inside-out. Head was released in 1968, a year after Boorman directed the influential and visually masterful neo-Noir Point Blank (1967), his first American film.
Producer: David Deutsch
Director: John Boorman
Screenplay: Peter Nichols
Cinematography: Manny Wynn
Production Design: Tony Woollard
Music: John A. Coleman, Basil Kirchin (both uncredited)
Film Editing: Gordon Pilkington
Cast: Dave Clark (Steve), Barbara Ferris (Dinah), Lenny Davidson (Lenny), Rick Huxley (Rick), Mike Smith (Mike), Denis West Payton (Denis), Clive Swift (Duffie), Hugh Walters (Grey), Robin Bailey (Guy), Yootha Joyce (Nan)
By John M. Miller