Nine Forgotten British Invasion Movies

Ferry Cross the Mersey

When you think of the British Invasion – the musical one, in the mid 1960s – you think of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and maybe the Kinks. The Beatles, of course, also became movie stars that decade, beginning with A Hard Day's Night. The other three bands, alas, never got their own teenybopper films. (Gimme ShelterTommy, and Return to Waterloo absolutely do not qualify.) However, several lesser musicians did. This is admittedly an esoteric list. I hope you still find it fab.

  1. FERRY CROSS THE MERSEY (1964) starring Gerry and the Pacemakers. The success of A Hard Day's Night opened the floodgates for other British groups' big-screen vehicles, and so it went for Gerry and the Pacemakers, fellow Liverpudlians who, like the Beatles, were managed by Brian Epstein and produced by George Martin. They recorded a few beautiful songs, including "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying" and the title track from this film, but they lacked the Fab Four's charisma.
  2. CATCH US IF YOU CAN (1965) starring the Dave Clark Five. Most '60s musicians regarded Dave Clark, who was both front man and manager for his band, as a cynical bloke who only craved fame and fortune. Nevertheless, the Dave Clark Five cranked out some catchy tunes in their day. This comedy, helmed by future A-list director John Boorman, was renamed Having a Wild Weekend for its US release.
  3. HOLD ON! (1966) starring Herman's Hermits. The Hermits, led by the boyish Peter Noone, were huge in the UK. Thanks mainly to Noone's charms, the Manchester quintet were naturals for the silver screen. They even got a second outing, 1968's Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter.
  4. THE CUCKOO PATROL (1967) starring Freddie and the Dreamers. Short, skinny, bespectacled, spastic Freddie Garrity was no leading man, but he was funny. ("The Freddie" was a faddish dance in 1965.) So producers figured that he and his bandmates could anchor a comedy. But distributors got cold feet: the film, originally slated for release in 1965, when the Dreamers were peaking, was shelved for two years.
  5. SUMMER HOLIDAY (1963) starring Cliff Richard and the Shadows. Like Kate Bush and Robbie Williams, Cliff Richard is one of those British superstars who never made it in America. He became a teen idol in the '50s and landed his first starring role in 1959's Expresso Bongo. In the mid-'60s, he and his band the Shadows headlined several escapist musicals. Summer Holiday is perhaps the best-known; Finders Keepers, The Young Ones, and Swingers' Paradise round out the quartet.
  6. TO SIR, WITH LOVE (1967) starring Lulu. As is my wont, I'm cheating a bit here, since this is not a musical but a classroom drama starring Sidney Poitier. But it was also designed as a vehicle for the 19-year-old Scottish singer Lulu. She played one of Poitier's loving students and awkwardly sang the title track to him onscreen as well as in the opening credits. In the US, "To Sir, with Love" was 1967's top-selling single. Yet it didn't chart at all in the UK, until it was included as a B-side to another song. (If you consider this entry only half-valid, then I'll fill it out with 1968's Work Is a Four-Letter Word, starring singer Cilla Black, who also appeared in Ferry Cross the Mersey.)
  7. PLAY IT COOL (1962) starring Billy Fury. In the early '60s, the hip-swiveling Fury was touted as Britain's answer to Elvis Presley. Essentially a pre-Invasion figure, Fury landed his first leading role while the Beatles were still slogging along with Pete Best. After Play It Cool, Fury's next vehicle was the clumsily titled I've Gotta Horse (1965). His third and final film was That'll Be the Day (1973), the actual star of which was a pre-"Rock On" David Essex. Ringo Starr and Keith Moon also acted in that curio.
  8. UP JUMPED A SWAGMAN (1965) starring Frank Ifield. If you think Billy Fury's obscure, try Frank Ifield on for size. Born in the UK and raised in Australia, Ifield found popularity in both countries with his yodel-infused singles "Lovesick Blues", "The Wayward Wind", and "I Remember You". Although he also enjoyed pre-Beatles fame, he gets the edge over Fury because "I Remember You" was a Stateside hit and because Up Jumped a Swagman – right up there with I've Gotta Horse in the clumsy title department – was released at the height of the British Invasion.
  9. FLAME (1975) starring Slade. West Midlands rockers Slade formed in 1966, but could hardly be considered a British Invasion band as they didn't make it big until the 1970s – and even then, nobody in America would hear much from them (although their songs "Cum On Feel the Noize" and "Mama Weer All Crazee Now" were big hits for the LA metal band Quiet Riot). But whereas I could instead cite the Zombies in Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965) or the Yardbirds in Blow-Up (1966), they were merely cameos, the musical backdrop to serious dramas starring real actors. Flame, at least, maintains the spirit of those '60s British band movies. There are few examples after that, save Spice World.