Kino Lorber has released two comedies by British filmmaker Richard Lester to DVD and blu ray. “The Knack (and how to get it)” and “How I Won The War” are welcome additions to any library or collection.
In between his two Beatle movies “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964) and “Help!” (1965), British film director Richard Lester helmed “The Knack (and how to get it)” (1965), a visually stimulating romantic comedy about three roommates vying for the same woman.
Photographed in stark black and white, as was “A Hard Day’s Night,” “The Knack” is similar to that film in that it offers an example of the younger culture in London. Rather than use rock and roll as its axis, “The Knack” concentrates on expanding sexuality as a shy teacher, a womanizing drummer, and an offbeat artist all utilize their own methods in attempting to attract a pretty newcomer to their scene. The title refers to having a “knack” with women, or the ability to score sexually. The shy teacher wants the womanizing drummer to help him achieve success in this area, as he realizes the prevailing culture offers an indulgent sexual revolution and he’s tired of no longer taking advantage of it.
One of the most interesting aspects of “The Knack” is the sort of visual composition Lester utilizes (as he had for “A Hard Day’s Night,” which might, in fact, be his masterpiece as a director). Quick edits, visual pans, rapid series of different shots, and other dazzling methods give the film an artsy look that never appears pretentious or forced. Along with the humor, and the drama, of the era’s sexual revolution, “The Knack” also depicts the mods and rockers of London’s sixties scene. The changing times, the lifestyles of the younger people, and the reaction of the older generation stimulate the narrative. Lester’s dazzling filmmaking ideas make the movie a visual delight.
“The Knack” features Rita Tushingham, Ray Brooks, Michael Crawford, and Donal Donnelly. It was made for $364,000 and grossed nearly $3 million.
The other Richard Lester feature released to blu ray by Kino Lorber is “How I Won The War” (1967), which has long enjoyed a cult following due to the appearance of Beatle John Lennon in a supporting role (while he remained involved with The Beatles). This is a war parody with a variety of outrageous, offbeat ideas. And while it did little more than confuse audiences and critics in 1967, it comes off as quite funny and quirky now.
The real star of the film is Michael Crawford who is quite funny as the bungling Lieutenant Earnest Goodbody whose ineptitude gets many people around him killed, but he always survives. Goodbody is always given charge of the most inept units in the army, and both Lennon and actor Roy Kinnear play enlisted men under his command. Lester structures the film as a straight comedy, in the same manner as he had the Beatle film “Help!” The narrative eschews linear structure and is told in a series of flashbacks, from the Goodbody character’s perspective. It is all quite silly and funny in the best tradition of British humor.
There are some interesting bits of trivia associated with “How I Won The War.” A bored John Lennon busied himself creatively by writing the song “Strawberry Fields Forever” while filming the movie in September and October of 1966 (the song was recorded in December and released as a single with “Penny Lane” in early 1967). This was also the first time the myopic Lennon wore glasses for the public to see. The glasses his character wears, wire rimmed frames that are appropriate for the wartime era in the movie, were not at all fashionable in 1967. Feeling empowered by wearing glasses and being able to see better when working and performing, Lennon kept wearing them pretty regularly throughout his career, making them immensely popular. They continue to be identified with the late Beatle to this day.
While “The Knack” is a great film in its own right, “How I Won The War” may be the better of the two. Each is strongly recommended as among the best British films of the 1960s and excellent representatives of Richard Lester’s work. Kino’s restorations are typically excellent for each release.