❉ “Without the tag of The Dave Clark Five stuck to it, this could have been much more the sixties cult curiosity than it is sold to us as now”.
Abduction, the death of the English country way-of-life, drugs, broken marriages and failed dreams… Yes, it’s the Dave Clark Five in their zany, runaround romp Catch Us If You Can! What will those wacky Tottenham lads get up to in their big-screen outing?
‘Nothing really’ is the answer to that. 1965’s Catch Us If You Can was a moment in the cinematic spotlight for the Dave Clark Five or, if we’re being perfectly honest, for Dave Clark himself. The band play a group of stuntmen with Clark as their leader. The whole lot of them become disillusioned during the shooting of an advertising campaign for meat and so Clark and his sort-of girlfriend, the star of the adverts, abscond from the set whilst the rest of the gang support them in their endeavours to reach an island off the Devon coast.
The film was the directorial debut of John Boorman, who would go on to make Deliverance, Excalibur and the baffling Zardoz, and it was shot in crisp black-and-white. Released between A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, it’s hard not to make comparisons between Catch Us If You Can and The Beatles’ movies, although it’s not really that useful in this case. Richard Lester’s films for The Beatles present them as on-screen versions of themselves, whether we’re travelling with them in the claustrophobic world of showbiz appearances and press-conferences in A Hard Day’s Night or on the run across the globe in the colourful world of Help! In Catch Us If You Can The Dave Clark Five are playing characters, so there’s no sense that you’re watching a band on screen. There are no musical performances and the songs featured in the film appear peripherally and somewhat repetitively as part of the general soundtrack. It must have seemed strange to fans of the band, heading to the cinemas ready for a high-energy burst of pop action, to have settled into their seats only to be presented with 90 minutes of lightly plotted, lightly scripted and very lightly acted commentary on the disillusionment of youth and the power of advertising.
The simple fact is that the film doesn’t need to be a vehicle for Dave Clark and the band. In many ways, it’s barely a vehicle for the group other than Clark himself. Whilst the literal star vehicle, a Mini-Moke, that Mike, Lenny, Rick and Denis pootle around in is fun enough, they themselves are stuck without clearly defined characters or motivation and are used simply as distractions in situations, in order to give Clark and his girlfriend Dinah (played by Barbara Ferris) the opportunity to move onto the next set piece. Guitarist Lenny Davidson doesn’t get a single line in the film. This must have been a real shame for contemporary fans and is a shame to modern viewers as well. Without the tag of The Dave Clark Five stuck to it, this could have been much more the sixties cult curiosity than it is sold to us as now.
If you’re looking for ‘sixties-ness’, those things that make the decade seem remote and fascinating, then you will find some here in the occasional moments of pop-art presentation and cinematography such as the ad-campaign ‘Meat For Go’ and the party sequence held in Bath, but more time is spent on suggesting everything around Dave Clark is bleak and meaningless. The single best thing about the film is the appearance of Yootha Joyce who plays one half of what I think we’re supposed to believe are an ‘eccentric’ married couple alongside Robin Bailey, but in fact are clearly a broken and unhappy pair finding thrills in trying it on with anyone who comes along. Frankly though, if I were Dave Clark in the film, I probably would have pitched in with Yootha’s character and at least had a hot bath and some fun when I got home from a hard day looking moody in a meat-market.
Simply put, it’s a string of scenarios strung together with some faffing about in a Mini-Moke and E-type Jag inbetween. At one point Clark and Ferris pitch up accidentally in an abandoned village and encounter a bunch of drug-ravaged travellers who want to know if they’ve brought them any ‘H’. Even the big fancy-dress party sequence feels mucky, with characters blacked and browned-up, launching themselves at strangers in a way that left me feeling really uncomfortable and doesn’t really feel forgivable to a modern eye. The film concludes at Burgh Island in Devon – a beautiful spot which we’re supposed to think of as bleak and distant and uninspiring. There’s probably more joy in the Agatha Christie stories inspired by the place and people are murdered in those.
The new release does look great. It’s well photographed, although the script and sound does mean it’s often hard to grasp what characters are saying in group scenes. The supporting cast is well chosen. Poor Clive Swift, not even 30 at the time but still appearing somehow to already be Richard Bucket’s age, has little do except drive around after the band and the marvellously moustachioed David Lodge hasn’t much to sink his teeth into. Barbara Ferris, as the leading female character, is a fine pick for the role she’s given, but doesn’t have much to say and really has little agency in the film.
The forgiving view of the movie is that it captures something that other ‘beat’ movies don’t and shows us some parts of the UK that don’t normally get seen on the screen in those types of films. Whether this is enough to give it bonus ‘nostalgia’ points, I don’t really know. Had it not contained Dave Clark and the lads, maybe it would have been regarded alongside the kitchen-sink pictures of the period, but it’s hard to feel empathy for a stuntman who can throw away a job, drive around in a Jag and then just head off to Spain when he feels like it. This will definitely appeal to some fans of sixties ephemera, but I think I’m probably going to watch Gonks Go Beat next in order to try and restore some balance to the universe.
❉ Paul Abbott runs Hark! The 87th Precinct Podcast, which takes a look at each of the books in series in turn, but usually turns quite silly, and The Head Ballet Podcast which celebrates the novelty record in all its forms.. He also makes noises with his band in Liverpool, Good Grief, and spends the rest of the time thinking about Transformers, The Beatles, Doctor Who and Monty Python.