|It's curious how a cash-in can take off and become its own thing, and so it was the case with the cash-in movie for hit pop group The Dave Clark Five, titled Catch Us If You Can after one of their big single successes. The elephant in the room was The Beatles’ film A Hard Day's Night - they were making its wackier follow-up Help! at the time director John Boorman was helming this - and if you ever gave the first five minutes a go you would be under the impression that you were watching a rip-off where the band had all been cast as Ringos. If that prompted you to roll your eyes and give up on it as little better than Herman's Hermits' Mrs Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter, fair enough.
But while it started daffy, The Dave Clark Five effort certainly did not end up that way, and its presence in the nineteen-sixties pop flick canon has always been a somewhat awkward one, since it refused to slot comfortably into the fluffy category that seemed ideal for it. And yet, that Herman's Hermits film did not either, it was far more contemplative, though few have offered it a second glance, as if both it and Catch Us If You Can were on a par with Freddie and the Dreamers' Cuckoo Patrol. The Clark-Boorman effort, on the other hand, can provoke wildly differing reactions, and that could be down to the presence of Clark himself, who was by no means a natural in front of the camera.
Indeed, he is a pretty awful actor whose anti-charisma is an oddly disquieting force in the piece, overbalancing the supposed good times and repurposing it as something more doleful, melancholy - even weirdly resentful. Boorman does not have many good things to say about the film, other than being grateful to Clark for giving him the stepping stone he needed to move to Hollywood and more personal projects with bigger budgets, and screenwriter Peter Nichols feels the same since it gave him the freedom to write his best known play, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (also successfully filmed), but they could not help but allow some of their innate talents and point of view to appear here.
Clark these days is regarded as a strange figure in the pop world, either a sinister Machiavelli whose control over his band's back catalogue extended to precious footage of other bands and artists that he sat on for many years, or an eccentric who bucked the system by making a prosperous job of organising his portfolio through a business savvy that all too few of his contemporaries failed to do. Not for him the desperate nostalgia tours with most of the band members replaced just so they could earn something to help them get by in old age, he was already set for life by his careful managing of his back catalogue and other interests, though he never appears to have been controlling over his movie.
Whether he was happy with Catch Us If You Can or not is hard to tell from his performance: he looks as though he would rather be anywhere else, and doesn't join in with the quips his bandmates are given - at more than one point he actually snaps at other characters - but he has never made any moves to suppress the project and seems content with its cult status. Could this be down to the way Boorman and Nichols plainly could not have given a stuff about his "Steve" character, a stuntman as Clark had been earlier in his career, and were far more entranced with his leading lady Barbara Ferris, a pixielike personality here which should have indicated she was onto bigger things as her director and writer were, yet nothing really worked out and the stardom that seemed to be beckoning never showed up for her.
Nevertheless, she was more than capable of carrying the story, such as it was, an existential crisis of a pop experience where the film actually has a breakdown before your eyes, eventually giving up on showbiz as the end credits roll. Nichols did ensure to place jokes in his script, and some of it does raise a laugh, yet the whole "what's the point?" air that invades it almost from the stages the opening titles are over was something not much seen in a product aimed at the youth market. Indeed, the comparison that looms large is with an American cult movie, The Monkees career-implosion vehicle Head which took a similarly jaded and cynical view of what was generally regarded to be fun and disposable entertainments for the masses.
Head flopped, as it went far further in the surrealism than Catch Us If You Can ever did, but that's not to say Boorman was a sellout for moving from television journalism to pop trifles, for you can assuredly view this as part of his canon even if the musical cues would not be his preferred choice. There were bits and pieces (hah!) of European art cinema to be discerned in his approach, as well as the love of old Hollywood most plain in the mass party sequence where the celebrants are in fancy dress, often as classic stars (though why one of the Five opted for Indian in brownface is something he may have regretted as time went on). Yet contrast this hedonism with the hippies Steve and Ferris's Dinah meet on an Army training ground - they call them "beats" but they've moved on from that, craving heroin and barely intelligible. Such cynicism would really take off in the seventies, but if it was not for the music this would be similar to The Sex Pistols' The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle in its despairing rejection of all they previously courted.
[StudioCanal release Catch Us If You Can on Blu-ray with the following special features:
Interview with Journalist and Film Historian Matthew Sweet
Interview with Screenwriter Peter Nichols
Interview with Set Dresser Ian Whittaker