Sandwiched in between his two Beatles films—A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1965)—is Richard Lester’s The Knack … and How to Get It (1965). While I find it impossible to peg any of Lester’s 1960s work as his best, The Knack is certainly near the top of the list. Though it lacks the fame of the Beatles movies, it’s possibly the best example of everything that was—and is—special about Lester’s movies of this era. It moves like lightning. It perfectly reflects its time. It’s good-hearted. It’s filled with in-your-face cinematic invention that somehow never distances you from the characters or the story. (This particular alchemy of Lester’s—the ability to never let you forget you’re watching a movie while still engaging your emotions—is why none of his imitators ever quite equaled him.) And the film has a freshness that time can’t touch. It was contemporary in 1965, and it feels contemporary today. Actually, put into perspective, it seems a bit ahead of its time, especially as concerns its white-on-white apartment that resembles the look of John Lennon’s “Imagine” video—made six years later.
The story—taken from Ann Jellicoe’s play and adapted by frequent Lester collaborator Charles Wood (Help!)—concerns a timid school teacher (Michael Crawford) who wants to learn “the knack” from his seemingly oversexed boarder (Ray Brooks), a man so successful with women that he gives out Green Shield Savings Stamps (the UK equivalent of S&H Green Stamps) to his conquests. Into this stumbles Nancy (Rita Tushingham), a young girl new to London in search of the YWCA, and Tom (Donal Donnelly), an agreeably odd fellow with a mania for painting things white. Much visual and verbal byplay of the finest kind follows. Everything about the film feels genuine and uncalculated, and it finally comes across as one joyous celebration of life and of being alive. And if there’s one thing this remarkable and remarkably funny film is, it’s alive. It may also be the most unusual romantic comedy ever made.