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March 04, 2008

The Young Ones

the young ones 1.jpg

Sidney J. Furie - 1961
Anchor Bay Region 1 DVD

After seeing The Young Ones for the first time, I had thought I had seen the missing link between The Band Wagon and A Hard Day's Night. Then I watched the film with Sidney Furie's commentary where he mentions Babes in Arms and Give a Girl a Break as inspirations, and makes the claim that he was first offered the chance to direct The Beatles' film debut. What is true about The Young Ones is that while it hardly rocks, it does have more inspired moments than I would have expected from Furie, especially with the dance numbers choreographed by Herbert Ross. Prior to his own career as a director, Ross seems to have been something of a hepcat himself, with the kind of exuberance in the choreography missing from the films Ross would make himself. Also, unlike most films from Furie, this one from his young career is actually fun to watch.

The story is that Cliff Richard and his band play at a London youth club. The property has been bought by Richard's magnate father, Robert Morley. Trying to keep his identity secret from the rest of the gang, Richard attempts to keep the club open. Money is needed to extend the lease. What to do? Put on a show! It's a bit more complicated with Morley buying out the theaters where Richard and the gang are to perform, and although the end is predictable, it is less than tidy with a couple of plot points conveniently forgotten.

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At the time The Young Ones was made, what passed for rock music was often the watered down variety from the likes of James Darren and Fabian. A couple of songs hint at Richard's claim of being the British Elvis Presley. At least on screen Richards seems more of a rock singer than Tommy Steele in The Dream Maker, but both were from a time when British rock stars were concerned with reassuring the parents that the kids were alright. The Young Ones is actually better when it doesn't try to be about rock music, and plays like a lower budget MGM musical from the Fifties, only shot in England in the early Sixties.

What makes The Young Ones watchable more than thirty-five years later is not the bland presence of Cliff Richard or the forgettable songs. What Furie did right was cast the film full of talented character actors, chiefly Robert Morley. Has Robert Morley ever given a bad performance, or not been fun to watch no matter what film his was in? Even the love interest in the film, Carole Gray, hints at talent that seems to have been underutilized since her debut here. Based on her brief filmography, Gray may have been passed over due to her unusual looks, marked by very full lips that suggests she was Joan Crawford and Mick Jagger's secret love child. Had they been born earlier, Richard O'Sullivan and Melvyn Hayes might have been part of the "Carry On" team.

Furie also points out in his commentary how he collaborated with Ross in filming the dances. A duet of Richard and Gray to a song titled "Nothing is Impossible" has the two dancing against a wall, and making a flying leap over a fence. The strings are visible. It isn't Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling in Royal Wedding, but it charms nonetheless. The opening number with cast members singing about Friday night recalls Stanley Donen's forays into the urban based musicals such as On the Town. An extended musical number will remind most of half a dozen such pieces in any number of MGM musicals with a show biz setting. The dance numbers are alone worth seeing The Young Ones. While Rob Marshall and Christopher Columbus strain to prove how cinematic they can render their musical numbers, Furie and Ross get it right by placing the widescreen camera just far enough away to allow the performance to speak for itself.

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Posted by peter at March 4, 2008 12:48 AM

Comments

This looks great Peter...

I've been on a musical kick of late and also working on a post dealing with a few recent movies I've seen that use split screens and frames - so that first screencap really grabbed me!

I'm moving it near the top of my zip.ca queue (though it doesn't seem to be currently available and only "on order").

Posted by: Bob Turnbull at March 5, 2008 11:38 AM

My British mod buddies have warned me to stay clear of all of Cliff Richard's films, but after reading this I expect I'd probably enjoy them. I do like Expresso Bongo a lot, but that's probably because I can't ever get enough of Laurence Harvey.

Posted by: Kimberly at March 5, 2008 05:57 PM

Bob: Let us know when your piece on split screens comes out.

Kimberly: I was surprised how much I liked this film, but it was for other reasons than being a vehicle for Richard. I would like to see Summer Holiday, which Furie prepped, Ross did the choreography, and served as Peter Yates' first feature. I also keep hoping Kino or someone will release a complete version of Expresso Bongo as the current DVD is short about ten minutes, cutting out Harvey's musical numbers.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at March 6, 2008 12:18 AM

>Let us know when your piece on split screens comes out.

Thanks for asking Peter. I just posted it up last night. It's kinda slapped together, but that's my style...B-)

Posted by: Bob Turnbull at March 6, 2008 09:18 PM

Excellent review, Peter. Also worth seeking out are the other Cliff Richard films released by AB, SUMMER HOLIDAY (directed by Peter Yates) and WONDERFUL LIFE (also directed by Furie and only available in a 3-disc set). While the follow-ups have even less rock music, they are entertaining nonetheless.

It should be noted, too, that these titles may be going out of print soon; they came from a licensing deal between AB and Canal Plus that has already expired, so if anyone really wants them, they better act fast.

Posted by: Matthew Kiernan at March 9, 2008 11:44 PM