Beat Meets Meat: The Dave Clark Five’s Wildish Weekend
Once upon a time – half a century ago, back in the Swinging Sixties, to be precise – a showbiz phenomenon from England was taking America by storm. A bunch of working-class lads so popular that they had a musical movement named after them. Hell, they even had their own feature film.
No, not them. This was not The Beatles, but The Dave Clark Five. This was not the ‘Mersey Sound’, but the ‘Tottenham Sound’ And the film wasn’t A Hard Day’s Night, but Catch Us If You Can. Or, to give it its US title, Having A Wild Weekend.
On the face of it, it is indeed quite similar to the first Beatles flick. The Five are a self-defined wise-cracking gang, and the loose plot has the elements of a generic Sixties “romp”, including wry pot-shots at the would be trend-setters of the advertising industry. The gang’s set-up is similar to – and quite possibly an influence on – that of the Monkees, and they live together in a “pad”: a converted church, decorated with trendy artifacts and full of gym equipment, which is used both for exercise, and for general looning during their groovy parties.
Instead of a pop group, the Five play a team of stunt men, and this is the springboard for the story. While filming an action-packed meat commercial, Dave Clark elopes with ‘The Meat Girl’ – the blonde bird who has risen to fame as the face of the meat industry’s advertising campaign.
They lark about in London for a few hours, then decide to visit an island off the Dorset coast that Meat Girl says she intends to buy. Meanwhile, the advertising company tells the press that she has been abducted, and the couple become unwitting fugitives from the law.
On the run, they arrive at a prototype hippy commune, which is squatting (for some strange unexplained reason) at the military training base on Salisbury Plain. They are forced to leave when the Army turns up and begins to blow up the buildings. The couple’s car is destroyed, but they are picked up at the roadside by an eccentric upper-class couple who take them to their luxurious house in Bath. The man-eating wife, who promptly sets her sights on Dave, is played by a young Yootha Joyce, eerily prefiguring her role as Mrs Roper in the popular sitcoms Man About The House and George and Mildred.
The rest of the Five are invited to join them, and they all attend a fancy-dress party at the Roman baths, which is the cue for much messing about when the police are tipped off and try to catch the errant pair.
Needless to say, they escape, and head off to the island, stopping on the way to visit an old mate of Dave’s who taught him something-or-other and is now setting up a cowboy holiday camp and… well, to be honest it’s all a bit irrelevant.
After a few over-long ‘scenic’ scenes (necessitated, one suspects, by budgetary restrictions as much as artistic demands) they get to the island and it’s all very bleak and they are both disillusioned, and the film peters out on a massive downer.
Although not exactly hard-hitting, it is markedly different from most pop films of the Summer Holiday era. The British film censors warned of several issues in the initial script, including references to drugs, suggestive dialogue and ‘shots of nudity or titillating semi-nudity’. Also a scene in which Clark drives with his eyes shut. (‘This might give dangerous ideas to some of the young.’) They advised that all references to ‘queers’ be dropped (homosexuality was still illegal in 1965).
Apart from its curiosity value as a relic of the ‘British Invasion’, it is interesting for a couple of other reasons. The locations, which are dwelt on at length, are enjoyable in their own right, especially the London ones (even the meat porters in the Smithfield scenes appear to be constituted from genuine cockney beef). And the hippy/beatnik scene is remarkable for the fact that one of the characters asks Dave Clark is he has any heroin (or ‘horse’ as it is referred to here, in the underground jargon of the time). This at a time when the Beatles were only just getting into ‘pot’.
It might also be of interest to know that Catch Us If You Can was John Boorman’s first feature film. He would go on to direct numerous well-known pictures, including, a few years later, the classic Deliverance.