Catch Us If You Can (or Having a Wild Weekend in the U.S.)is the first feature film directed by John Boorman. It’s an incredibly odd film, bordering on ’60s art-house but wrapped up within this pop movie for the Dave Clark Five.
The film came out in 1965, which was a year after the runaway success of The Beatles collaboration with Richard Lester, A Hard Day’s Night. The Dave Clark Five were named after their drummer, and around this time were considered serious rivals to the Beatles, so a pop film was a natural. Their big hit was “Glad All Over,” and Dave Clark had an astounding amount of control over the band’s recordings, which he still has to this day. They were the key band of the “Tottenham Sound” which was simply a silly marketing term to create a manufactured rivalry with the Mersey Beat as there were no other bands with the “Tottenham Sound.” The DC5 never made the jump to psychedelia, despite a few mildly psych-tinged singles, they stuck to a pretty basic rock n’ roll sound and were becoming old hat by 1967. The band split up in 1970, much like their old rivals The Beatles.
The film is in some ways the most interesting thing the group ever produced, and is such an anti-pop film in some ways that it’s kind of remarkable. It starts as basic a parody of Richard Lester’s anarchic style, with quick cuts etc,. but very quickly morphs into something entirely different. Unlike A Hard Day’s Night, the band members don’t play themselves but instead are a group of freelance stuntmen—Dave Clark was a movie stuntman pre-fame. Barbara Ferris plays Dinah, a model who is the face of “Meat For Go,” which is an obvious satirical jab at Dinah being seen as a piece of “meat” selling meat. Marianne Faithfull was offered the part, but turned it down, reportedly for being “too poppy.” Dinah and Dave Clark are both disillusioned by the commercial world, so they flee the set and go on an utterly aimless road trip through mid ’60s Britain. Her idea is that she’s going to buy an island so she can get away from everything. The heads of the advertising agency dispatch henchmen to try to track her down, which gives the whole film a slightly sinister quality.
It’s not a film with a huge amount of plot, but it’s a great off-beat movie that ends on this quite dour note. It feels kind of like a film about the end of the ‘60s, but made in the middle of the 60s so a bit ahead of its time… Head didn’t arrive ‘til 1968—and those two would make a great double bill. One of the places they stop is what is obviously a hippie commune (pre-actual-hippie), they are very obvious drug references that would not have gotten through the censors two years later. There’s another odd sequence with a middle-aged married swingers couple talking about “the youth of today,” with Dinah agreeing with them and the two twice to seduce this hipper youngsters.
The fact that Catch Us If You Can is the film Boorman made before Point Blank is baffling, but kind of genius. I don’t think anyone quite knows who the true auteur of the film is, given Clark’s extreme level of creative control. Bits will remind you of an Antonioni or Alain Resnais film, which of course young filmmakers like Boorman and the band members would have been watching. The centrepiece is a big fancy-dress party, with a very good Marx Brothers joke involving costume switches. That scene is quite memorable and lead singer Mike Smith as Jean Harlow! Barbara Ferris is pretty good in it, it’s a shame that she didn’t have much of a career afterwards. It’s weird anti-consumerist message predates The Monkees’ Head, which is more explicitly along those lines. Also, “Catch Us If You Can” is a better song than “Glad All Over.”
It’s great that this Blu-Ray is out, because it’s well worth seeing (although Boorman apparently not very happy with the film, seeing Catch Us If You Can as just something he did as a stepping stone to his “real film career”). The extras include an interview with film historian Matthew Sweet, who looks like he belongs on Blue Peter, plus shorter interviews with screenwriter Peter Nichols and set dresser Ian Whittaker.