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Cliff Richard Collection, The
In the wake of Elvis' early success a number of imitations sprang up. Probably the most legitimate one of the time was Cliff Richard, a British pop star who sported Elvis' greasy hair and lean, almost feminine figure, but whose voice didn't have the same edge. (On a personal note, my mom has recounted seeing Richard live in London when she was a giggling teen and has always been amazed at the sight of girls literally tearing out their hair for sheer joy of seeing their favorite singer. Whether or not she tore out her hair as well, she won't say.) Anchor Bay's The Cliff Richard Collection presents Richard's three early-60's feature films in one box, including his breakthrough film The Young Ones, and the follow-ups
What's striking about the films is how competent and watchable they are today. While a lot of Elvis' movies are almost too stupid to watch, Richard's actually have a sweetness that helps them defy age and a visual style that actually makes it seem incredible that they're all around forty years old. Even through the songs now mostly sound drippy and overly sentimental, the movies themselves are lively and well-done. The Young Ones, the simplest of the three, involves the age-old story of the big developer trying to tear down the youth club. Richard and his pals put on a big show to save the hang out and lots of singing and dancing take place. While the story is no great shakes, director Sidney Furie showcases a confidence and inventiveness that the directors of incompetent modern pop star films like Crossroads and Glitter can't begin to muster. The use of colors and the terrific Cinemascope frame lend the film a visual sophistication beyond its simple story. This film in particular is a good example of the swinging London lampooned in the Austin Powers films, with big dance numbers breaking out in the street and plucky, youthful attitude. The film is also helped by a great performance from Robert Morley as the real estate maven who also happens to be Cliff's pop.
Summer Holiday finds Richard and his buddies heading to Greece in a red British double-decker. They pick up a bunch of strangers along the way, including a trio of girl singers, a circus troupe (including a particularly verbose mime) and an undercover American teen pop star. Once again, the material is typical, if energetic, but the filmmaking and the energy of the young cast make it stand out. Peter Yates' directing is as assured as Furie's on The Young Ones, starting with a beautiful grainy, black-and-white opening sequence straight out of Italian neo-realism, and through all the Technicolor numbers. The mix of studio shooting with locations in Greece and France helps make Summer Holiday another fun flick.
Wonderful Life may be the most ambitious of the three. Cliff and pals are thrown off a cruise ship where they had worked as waiters and house musicians. They find themselves on the Canary Islands and soon end up in the middle of a large film production. This sort of self-referential filmmaking wasn't that common then, with plenty of insider jokes and an astonishing 20 minute sequence with the cast basically acting out the history of movies to that point. While is does stop the story (which includes another love interest for Cliff, in the lovely form of Susan Hampshire), this sequence is unique for its scope and deft humor. Featuring the most location footage of the three, Wonderful Life is a surprisingly complex film. Furie, directing again, seems to be trying to turn a typical pop film into a more mature work, even with all the Monkees-style humor and hammy acting. Once again the supporting cast is great, including Walter Slezak as the director of the film within the film.
All three films seem to have been taken from high-quality original elements. The pictures are sharp and colorful, the anamorphic 2.35:1 frames wide and glorious. The image has a good deal of grain, which is appropriate to the film stock. Anchor Bay has done a fine job presenting these films here.
The Dolby Digital mono soundtracks also sound fine, is a little limited. Musical fans may long for surround sound, but this is the way these films were recorded and the quality is there. The songs sound crisp and energetic and the dialog is clear. Summer Holiday also includes a French soundtrack. No subtitles are included.
All three films have audio commentary from the directors, with Furie joined by his friend, filmmaker Paul Lynch and journalist Waylon Wahl on The Young Ones and Wonderful Life and Yates joined by journalist Jonathan Sothcott. Strangely, Furie seems to have expunged all memories of working on these films and has no recollection of any specifics. Still, his commentaries are entertaining and contain a lot of insight into the film industry of the time. Incredibly, he reveals that he turned down the Beatles' Hard Day's Night to do Wonderful Life but is modest enough to say that it doesn't matter since it wouldn't have been as good had he directed it. Yates is far sharper in his memory of working with Richard and discusses the process of making Summer Holiday in good detail. All the commentaries are worth a listen.
The discs also include trailers and bios.
Cliff Richard may be a touch bland in the music department but his onscreen presence is genuine and fun, which could also describe the films here overall. Fans of the music or movies of the period should definitely check out these surprisingly enjoyable films.