Retro: our movie & TV vault... a fresh look
at neglected classics and cult favourites
First seen by this reviewer back in the early 1970s when it popped up on TV as part of a BBC Tuesday night season of pop group movie vehicles.
Alongside films starring Cliff and the Shadows, Joe Brown and the Bruvvers, Adam Faith, and inevitably Richard Lester's collaborations with The
Beatles, this one stuck in the mind for its downbeat almost bleak message. Made in the same year as Help!, Catch Us If You Can, for
all that some of the footage seems like pop video filler at least looks and feels like a pop video made by Antonioni.
The band play movie stuntmen, Dave Clark had this in his background, and eschew any onscreen performance of their hits. Steve (Dave Clark) and Dinah (Barbara Ferris, Children Of The Damned, The Krays) star in a series of ads for the Meat Marketing Board, 'Meat for Go!' Steve and his fellow stuntmen want to pack it in and head for Spain to teach scuba-diving in the sunshine.
After an ad shoot in Smithfield meat market, Steve and Dinah abscond in the E-type Jaguar used as a prop. Steve takes Dinah scuba-diving in some local baths; Dinah takes Steve to some botanical gardens to see an orange tree growing under glass. They talk about their dreams but there is little correspondence between their singular ambitions which suggests that their future will not be together. Dinah reveals that she has plans to buy an island of her own off the Devon coast and Steve suggests they pay it a visit. Zissell (David de Keyser, known for his voice work as much as his impressive acting credits), Dinah's boss at the ad agency, instigates a search for the pair, all the while recognising the publicity potential of the fleeing 'butcher girl' and 'stunt boy'. Hearing music Steve and Dinah call at a deserted village on Salisbury plain where a band of somnolent travellers are hanging out. Steve is less than impressed but Dinah is both fascinated and repelled by the pointless ramblings of their leader Yeano (Ronald Lacey, Raiders Of The Lost Ark). The uncomfortable sojourn is interrupted by an artillery barrage and attack by the military that use the site as a target for war games, in a sequence comparable to the battle on Salisbury Plain waged in Help! (1965 was obviously a good year for military advisers.)
Hitching, Steve and Dinah are picked up by middle-aged collectors Guy (Robin Bailey) and Nan (the late Yootha Joyce), who barely disguise a predatory interest in the pair while offering their help. Holed up in Guy and Nan's house on The Crescent in Bath, Steve and Dinah are reunited with Mike's friends but Kissell's gofers are on their trail. Everyone attends a fancy-dress party at The Pump Rooms, with Kissell's men alerting both the police and the press, the party ends with the inevitable dousing in the Roman Baths. I would be fascinated to know if these scenes were filmed in the actual Baths, it being 1965 and all, when I visited you weren't even allowed to dibble your fingers in the water.
Homing in on Dinah's island the runaways visit Louie (David Lodge) who used to run a youth club the boys attended. Louie does not remember Steve but recognises Dinah as the 'butcher girl'. He tries to persuade the pair to help him out with publicity for the western-themed holiday park he is trying to develop but Steve is disappointed and disillusioned. When Steve announces that he is still planning to go to Spain Dinah reacts with hurt and alarm, although there has been no intimacy between the pair it suggests that she has assumed a deeper bond.
In a couple of telling scenes Zissell views blown-up photographs of Dinah on a light-box, and is put on the spot by a drunken hack he is cultivating, who probes him about his feelings for the girl.
Steve and Dinah arrive at her island (the tidal Burgh Island off the Devon coast). They travel over on the giant tractor and visit the rundown and deserted hotel that Dinah describes as smelling of 'old holidays'. Zissell is already there and Dinah easily gives up on her dreams, it seems the real relationship is between these two. Asked how he got there, Zissell points out that with the tide out the island is easily accessible across the beach, already teeming with reporters, 'not even a real island' observes Dinah. The party leave the hotel and Dinah tells the press that she was never abducted, Zissell reveals to her that the next stage of the campaign is 'gracious living', perhaps an intimation of a relationship with him after the 'go' of her time with Steve. In a first show of intimacy Dinah embraces Steve with a passionate kiss, but it is for the cameras and he walks away to rejoin his friends.
At this time the Dave Clark Five were snapping at the heels of The Beatles in penetration of the American market; if they were left behind musically this offering has aged better than its contemporary Help! There are two standout tracks on the soundtrack, the title track, and lead guitarist Lenny Davidson's When, with its plaintive chorus of "Please come back to my arms."
With a background in documentary filmmaking this was Boorman's feature debut. Blending ad-land sequences in London with deserted vistas in the West Country, one can imagine a sonorous voiceover with the excellent locations examining the state of Britain in the mid-1960s. Even if this quirkily enjoyable fable wasn't quite what the fan-base and the industry expected Boorman's expertise had assured his future. Dave Clark was apparently unhappy with his own performance but the strong silent reading and 'saturnine good looks' matched the taciturn nature of the character. Barbara Ferris attracted some criticism for her Dinah but playing sweetly pretty and occasionally shallow she has a depth in her performance that reveals the incongruities of the character. This was after all supposed to be a knockabout romp in the tradition of Hard Days Night. That Boorman's direction, married to a screenplay by Peter Nichols (A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg), and serious minded performances, transformed a wispy little road movie into a meditation on dreams, disappointments and the nature of celebrity, while remaining pleasingly inconsequential, is a credit to all concerned.