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Frame by Frame

The Knack . . . and How to Get It

Ray Brooks and Rita Tushingham in The Knack

Colin (Michael Crawford, before his days as The Phantom of the Opera), a clueless schoolmaster who owns a posh townhouse in London, is landlord to Tolen (Ray Brooks), a notorious womanizer whose numerous liaisons have become a source of humiliation for Colin. When Tom (Donal Donnelly) shows up, looking for a room, along with Nancy (Rita Tushingham), the stage is set for a battle of the sexes in which Tolen finds himself exposed as something of a fraud, while Colin realizes that he is something more than just a “great steaming nit,” as one of his students rudely calls him.

Sharply directed by Richard Lester, who helmed both A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1965) for the Beatles, The Knack . . . and How to Get It employs every editorial trick in the book, including freeze frames, split screen work, reverse motion, slow motion, multiple dissolves and elegantly sculptural black and white cinematography to bring the Swinging London era alive, with a superb jazz score by 60s era composer John Barry, all on a budget of roughly $350,000; the film grossed more than $8,000,000 worldwide.

Based on a play by Ann Jellicoe, and surprise winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival, where the film impressed both audiences and critics, The Knack . . . and How to Get It is both a valentine to a lost era, as well as reminder of the joy and insouciance of youth, and a time of innocence, when the world is your playground.

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About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him or his website,

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