“I’ve got an idea. Suppose we do a show.”
With references in the media to British rock stars such as Elton John and Paul McCartney who have received knighthoods in recent years, another of their vintage similarly honoured sometimes gets overlooked. The person in question is Cliff Richard, often thought of as the British Elvis Presley of his day. Born in 1940, Richards became a big rock star in the late 1950s and early 1960s, particularly in combination with his backup band, The Shadows. Again paralleling Elvis’s career, Richard began to star in a series of musicals aimed at showcasing his talents. The first of these was 1961’s The Young Ones (AKA Wonderful to Be Young). Anchor Bay has now released the title on a very nice-looking DVD available separately or as part of the Cliff Richard Collection.
The local youth club is a second home for the neighbourhood guys and gals, particularly aspiring pop singer Nicky Black. It soon transpires that the club’s existence is threatened by a large-scale development being planned by a building tycoon who is none other than Nicky’s own father. The youngsters soon realize that their lease offers them a solution that will allow their club to survive, but it involves raising a substantial sum of money. The solution? Put on a show that they will publicize with pirate radio transmissions featuring a mystery singer.
It only took the first ten seconds of the film to make me concerned and then another ten minutes to confirm that I was in for a bad time. The Young Ones has all the characteristics of the poorer Elvis Presley films — a threadbare plot, not enough memorable songs, poor acting, and indifferent singing and dancing. Unfortunately for the audience, Cliff Richard sings the only decent song in the film (the title song) early on and that modest height is never reached again. When we do get something that looks rather interesting such as the “Let’s Dance” number, it’s completely out of sync with the rest of the film (a Bob Fosse-like number amongst classic MGM numbers).
A classic MGM musical is, incidentally, what The Young Ones aspires to be, but the chasm between hope and reality is yawning indeed. Where a classic MGM musical literally overflowed with singing and especially dancing talent, The Young Ones looks exactly like what its plot implies — a crowd of amateurs pretending to be skilled performers. What should flow with ease and smoothness seldom looks like anything other than hard work. The dance choreography looks ragged and even star Cliff Richard struggles when he’s doing anything else other than singing. As for his singing, he has some talent; too bad then that most of his material here is substandard.
Surprising indeed is the presence of veteran British actor Robert Morley. What a waste of this fine talent! One can only surmise that he was doing someone a favour by appearing.
Another surprise is the fact that the director is Sidney J. Furie. Furie’s first really good and successful film was 1965’s The Ipcress File, but he had seven years of directorial apprenticeship before that in his native Canada and in England. 1961 was a particularly busy year for Furie with The Young Ones being but one of five films released. If the titles of some of the others are any indicator (Snake Woman, Dr. Blood’s Coffin), they weren’t much better. Yet, The Young Ones was the second highest grossing British film of the year (behind Dr. No), which just goes to show how big and effective a teenaged audience could be in making a mediocre film a success.
Anchor Bay’s DVD certainly makes the film look great. The Young Ones has apparently been restored from original British archival materials and the results are very fine indeed. Colours are bright and fairly vibrant, and the image is clear and clean with only some occasional evidence of grain intruding. Blacks are generally deep and shadow detail is good. Edge enhancement is not an issue.
The audio is a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track that delivers clear sound without age-related hiss or distortion. On the other hand, for a musical, it’s somewhat disappointing as the songs lack any great sense of dynamism. There is no subtitling provided.
The main supplement is an audio commentary by director Sidney Furie and filmmaker Paul Lynch. The commentary is at best average with Furie being the main contributor. The content is mainly of an anecdotal nature, with both participants taking the appearance of various scenes as cues to remind them of related information, rather than providing a strictly factual technique-based account. In addition to the commentary, we get the theatrical trailer and a text-based Cliff Richard biography. The case insert card contains a nice reproduction of one of the film’s original posters on one side.
I can see little reason why anyone would want to bother with this film. As a musical, it’s substandard, and only a die-hard Cliff Richard fan is likely to have any interest at all. If you’re in that category, though, you will be pleased with Anchor Bay’s efforts to show off the film in its best light and also managing to get Sidney Furie to provide a commentary.