Melody features an incongruous mix of coming of age, kitchen sink melodrama and farce to the tune incidental music and random instrumental interludes. However, Martin Carr finds plenty to like in this Alan Parker-scripted 1971 British film.
This is a strange one. Starring the most bankable exports from 1968’s Oscar winning Oliver adaptation, it comes across as forty percent kitchen sink drama and sixty percent coming of age comedy. Taking the inherent charm of its chief exponents Mark Lester and Jack Wild, we get a burgeoning friendship, needless incidental music and random instrumental interludes to accompany their misadventures.
Melody is named after the girl who Lester becomes infatuated with and is played on screen by Tracy Hyde. There is an undoubted oddball nostalgia about the whole enterprise, which is carried by the solid support of good character acting and watchable child actors. Produced by David Puttnam and filmed on location in London, Melody is little more than a cash-in on Wild and Lester’s popularity post Oliver.
Textbook situations, teenage crushes, working class versus middle class upbringings and Dickensian teachers are all present and correct. There is a distinctly Seventies quality to everything from cinematography to chauvinist attitudes, which more than anything dates this film. Set within a comprehensive school it possesses Ealing comedy elements and Carry On overtones. Situations though stereotypical are endearing and Lester above all remains engaging throughout.
If anything this foreshadows Parker’s work with Jodie Foster and Scott Baio in Bugsy Malone. True there is less Hollywood money behind it and the concept is far from bar raising, but what Melody sets out to do is achieved. To be honest when those main titles came up my hopes plummeted in line with the unnecessary orchestration. Never have The Bee Gees been so incongruous and any amount of Crosby, Stills and Nash felt strangely out of place.
Things would have been much improved by less incidental music, followed by less of a slapstick ending and more cohesion in that opening ten minutes. There is despite my misgivings a good film here, after all Alan Parker is not known for writing dross. It just feels that somewhere in the mix things got confused and only the naturalism of Lester, Wild and unknown Tracy Hyde holds things together. One fears that Melody sank without trace at the box office, but got enough good reviews to keep Puttnam ticking over until he hit his stride. As for Parker, well Midnight Express this is not but we all have to start somewhere.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Waris Hussein
Written by: Alan Parker
Starring: Jack Wild, Mark Lester, Tracy Hyde
Released: 1971 / Genre: Comedy/Drama
Country: UK / IMDB
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Melody is released on Blu-ray & DVD from May 8 2017 courtesy of Studiocanal