The Knack … and How to Get It

Movie Information

The Knack ... and How to Get It, part of a series of Classic Cinema From Around the World, will be presented at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22, at Courtyard Gallery, 9 Walnut St. in downtown Asheville. Info: 273-3332.
Genre: Comedy
Director: Richard Lester
Starring: Rita Tushingham, Michael Crawford, Ray Brooks, Donal Donnelly
Rated: NR

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.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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2 thoughts on “The Knack … and How to Get It

  1. irelephant

    Curious what your opinion is of Lester’s Musketeer films and superman III. I was reading about Lester this morning and noticed that he doesn’t get that much respect, which seems odd considering at least what I’ve learned from you about his technical innovations–to say nothing of the sheer entertainment value of his beatles’ films.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I like the Musketeer films. (Need to rewatch them.) The Superman stuff…well, it’s Superman stuff. (Don’t have any desire to rewatch them.) I am perplexed by the lack of respect Lester has these days. It makes no sense. I thought maybe Scrosese saying he was as important as Jean-Luc Godard might give him a boost, but then you have to read Scorsese’s liner notes for Help! to realize he said that. And if you’re reading those notes, you’re probably already sold.

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