The Knack… And How to Get It

theknack1

In the first sequence of the Knack, a group of women wait in a long corridor to see a man behind a door. They are all wearing the same clothes and all have a very long watch necklace hanging around their necks. The narrator, who we find out is our protagonist, explains that the man behind the door is the ultimate Don Juan. He can get any girl with a turn of a phrase and a leer. This man is able to love them, have them and leave them in equal term. He has the knack. Each new woman bleeds into another until all of them have brown hair, a tight sweater, a mini skirt and a long watch necklace. As the camera moves across all of these women, it becomes more and more surreal. The viewer eventually understands that this sequence is just a fantasy of the protagonist and the man doesn’t literally have zombie like girls lined up outside his bedroom door. This sequence is a small hint at the mayhem that ensues in this Richard Lester film from the early sixties.

Colin, the protagonist is tired of not having the knack with women. He confronts his roommate, Tolen, and asks him to teach him how to get women the way he does. Tolen offers cryptic advice that Colin interrupts into getting a bigger bed. While he is on the hunt for a bigger bed, Colin meets Nancy, just off the bus and green to the swingin’ London scene. She is lost in the urban wilderness and relies on Colin to help get her grounding. Nancy goes back to the apartment with Colin and his new lodger, Tom. They begin an easy friendship full of adroit language and odd conversations. As Colin and Tom struggle to bring the bigger bed up to Colin’s room, Tolen comes home to see a naive young girl in his flat. Tolen’s downfall is that he cannot resist hitting on a woman no matter what the circumstances. Tensions rise and Nancy must choose who is going to “rape” her. (I put this in air quotes because it is understood that she is never raped, but rather framing the conversation to suit her insecurities. She is only shown forcefully kissed by Tolen and Colin, so who knows…) In the end Nancy decides to go with Colin and they form a romantic relationship behind Nancy’s “rape.”

If you watched more than fifteen minutes of this film you would instantly be able to tell that this same man also directed the iconic a Hard Day’s Night. Richard Lester burst on the scene with a Hard’s Day Night and followed it up with this ironic study of the youth culture. Thus commenting and satirizing something he helped create by shaping a Hard’s Day Night movie. He takes the laissez-faire attitude that most youths had during this time and shows the absurdity of it. When we finally see Tolen, we see that he isn’t this sex god that Colin had been idolizing. In fact he is quite homely. As he hits on Nancy, Tolen’s commenting become more and more overtly misogynistic and Nancy shies away from him. I began to wonder how Tolen got any women at all. Colin desperately wants to be as care free and suave as Tolen but he is unable to reconcile his upbringing as a stodgy Englishman. This ingrained sense of naivetĂ© becomes his ultimate advantage with Nancy, despite his complete hatred of it. Nancy sees in Colin an innocence that is absent in Tolen. Add to this chaotic equation a condrum with a bed that is big for the hall (and his room, not that he ever gets it up there) and a new tenanent that must paint everything white and you get a totally zany and absurd film worthy of a Hard Day’s Night follow up. Richard Lester was able to give the foundation of a youth movement without ever being a part of it himself.

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