A film about the late fifties that feels very much like the early seventies mostly down to the presence of David Essex a pretty boy of David Cassidy proportions who could also act – and still does in Walford and beyond.
Genuine rock ‘n roll credentials are provided by Ringo Starr who in his youth worked at Butlins and on the pier in Llandudno before joining Rory Storm and the Hurricanes and other, more successful, Scouse beat bands along with a Mr Keith Moon who I believe slapped the drum skins for the High Numbers.
|Billy Fury in the Wondrous Place...|
Outshining them both is Billy Fury, Liverpool’s own Elvis, who maintains an authentic aura of cool whenever he’s on screen and is every inch the part-time rock star, full-time legend (thanks Pete Wylie!) you’d expect from the man who sang Wondrous Place
. In his gold suit and with his blonde DA he’s the man Martin Fry hoped to be and even in the reduced circumstances of the film’s holiday camp, he looks like he should be somewhere better: the Empire, the Palladium, Cesar’s Palace!?
I had written off That'll Be the Day
as a vehicle for Essex rather than an attempt to connect with the youthful truth of rock ‘n roll transition. My early teen self was put off by the popstar and, now having finally got round to watching it, I can see that was unfair. At times the film feels like an updated Alfie
with Essex’s character, Jim Maclaine, going through a series of uncommitted relationships with some of the prettiest actresses of the time without finding himself or a direction.
|The brilliant James Booth|
Unlike Alfie, we see Jim’s origins, as the story begins with his Jack the Lad, Dad (James Booth) returning home from the War and never quite settling before heading off leaving wife (the excellent Rosemary Leach) and child with a wink and a far-away smile. It’s a grin that says, sorry son but I’ve no choice… a man pathologically driven to run, away.
|Jim dreams in class|
What effect does that have on the son? He drifts through school always dreaming of more and never committing to hard work or limited horizons – optimistically he assumes that there’s always something better around the corner and even as he moves from ingénue to adult he’s still always looking over his lovers’ shoulders….
Jim can’t concentrate on school and spends his time doodling while his best mate, Terry (Robert Lindsay) focuses on his studies. Both are bright lads set on university but Jim throws his books and his chances into the stream and resolves to leave home looking for who knows what.
|On the beach|
So Jim leaves his mother behind – abandoned by both father and now son, and becomes a deckchair attendant in an un-named seaside town (somewhere on the Isle of Wight) where he starts to notice the ladies. He’s still unsure of exactly what to do until he meets rocker Mike (Ringo Starr in one of his better roles).
|Dave, Ringo, Brenda and Deborah|
The two are working as bar men in a holiday camp and Mike helps to set Jim up with a young lass called Sandra (Deborah Watling) whilst he cops off with her mate Doreen (Brenda Bruce) as they dance along to Stormy Tempest (Billy Fury) and his band including Nashville Teen John Hawken as well as J.D. Clover played by Keith Moon.
Back to Jim’s chalet they go and – momentarily distracted by a crying baby: the sound of parental responsibility – his performance debut goes without a hitch and rather too quickly for the more-experienced-than-she-lets-on, Sandra.
The lads get jobs at a fairground managed by Jack (the ever dependable Johnny Shannon) and Mike explains the rules of this new game: “one for them and one for us” a split of the takings based on judicious over-charging and short-changing the punters on the dodgems. Mike’s rules are simple and they include a golden one: above all don’t pick on gang members.
Sadly he fails to heed his own council and ends up badly beaten by members of a gang whilst Jim just slinks away into the darkness leaving him to his fate. Bad deeds are rewarded as Jim gets Mike’s plum job on the merry-go-round and swiftly becomes the cock of the waltzer.
|David Essex and Sara Clee|
There’s a poignant interlude as a pretty girl (Sara Clee – always excellent in everything I see and now a successful counsellor and therapist!) waits for him. There’s something deeper about this relationship and they make their way back to her house where Jim is appalled to find a baby sleeping in her room. It’s another reminder not only of family but also of the irresponsibility of his lifestyle and he runs away…
Another reality check takes place when Terry comes to visit and after Jim shows him his new life, they agree to go to a dance at the former’s university. It’s a dose of what could have been for Jim as he tries and fails to establish contact with Terry’s female friends: he’s missed the beat and they’ve no common ground.
|The likely lads... Robert Lindsay and David Essex|
Jim returns home – perhaps it’s time to settle and stick to something. He rejuvenates his mother’s shop and even swaps his motorbike for a new van. He also starts seeing Terry’s Sister Jeanette (Rosalind Ayres of the lovely eyes who also never seems to disappoint) much to he and his mother’s concern.
|Rosalind Ayres and makes eyes|
Jim treats Jeanette with more respect than the women we’ve seen and he seems set on married life until celebrating his last night of bachelor-hood with Terry’s girlfriend…
There’s something reckless about Jim and it’s clear that history may be about to repeat itself…
Dusty verdict: That’ll be the Day
|Jimmy Dean? |
falls short of the impact of classic kitchen sinks from the decade before even if it does have hard edges. Director Claude Whatham adapts Ray Connolly’s story well but there’s a light-heartedness that somehow undermines the impact.
|Rosemary Leach and David Essex|
There are some good performances from Rosemary Leach and Rosalind Ayres in particular and, for me, David Essex doesn’t quite have their chops. He’s perhaps too likeable to play Jim - a man driven by the spirit of rock and roll and the restlessness to seek another life.
There’s a follow-up – Stardust
– that has a lesser reputation and which deals with Jim’s later music career. – maybe I should see that to put this in its full context.
That’ll be the Day
|Jim and his heroes|
is available with Stardust
on DVD from Amazon
and all the usual places. In truth it’s worth the price of admission just for Billy Fury, Ringo and Moon. Rock On
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