Forgotten Films: Melody
Who is the girl with crying face, looking at millions of signs?
She knows that life is a running race; her face shouldn’t show any lines.
- Melody Fair, The Bee Gees
The 1968 musical film adaptation of Oliver! was both a box office and critical success so producers were keen on the idea of re-teaming the young stars, Mark Lester and Jack Wild. The vehicle ultimately chosen for them was the 1971 English comedy Melody, released in Britain as S.W.A.L.K. (Sealed with a Loving Kiss) directed by Waris Hussein. Hussein was best known for directing several episodes of the popular BBC series Doctor Who including the pilot story, An Unearthly Child. The title role in Melody was played by newcomer Tracy Hyde who gave the returning duo of Lester and Wild a run for their money.
On the surface, Melody tells the sweet and simple story of two grade school children who fall in love and decide that they want to be married. Mark Lester plays Daniel Latimer, a boy from an upper middle class family who has just transferred into a new school. He befriends a troubled latch-key lad named Ornshaw (Jack Wild) who displays little respect for authority and always seems behind or involved in any mischief that is going on. When Daniel meets Melody, a girl from a working class family who falls socially in the middle between him and Ornshaw, he must deal with his budding feelings of romance as well as the threat this new relationship poses to his friendship.
The first half of the film concentrates on Daniel adjusting to a new school where he doesn’t know anyone and his friendship with Ornshaw who initially seems to think Daniel might be a good target to mooch off of. As their friendship grows, the two share many adventures like skipping school and a trip to the Dean of Students for disciplinary measures. Once Daniel meets and becomes infatuated with Melody, though, Ornshaw quickly turns from irritated to hostile, but fortunately, love conquers all and he sees past his own needs to help his friend.
The youthful characters in Melody are all well cast and played with an almost too firm grip on reality for the majority of the film. As the story progresses and Daniel and Melody become increasingly frustrated with families that cannot adequately address their desire to get married and teachers and peers who either dismiss or make fun of them, the tone shifts quickly to near surrealism. The final reel finds the young couple finally taken seriously by their schoolmates to the point that the entire student body sneaks away during a break to stage their own version of a wedding. When the faculty and Daniel’s mother attempt to pursue them, the scene breaks down into chaos with the teachers fleeing for their lives and the newlyweds departing for parts unknown on a nearby railcar!
Coming in a close second to films like The Graduate, Melody features an outstanding soundtrack predominantly performed by the Bee Gees but including a key track by Crosby, Stills, and Nash. These songs were not written specifically for the film but seem custom-tailored to it nonetheless. Melody opens with the Bee Gees’ haunting In the Morning which serves as a perfect introduction to this coming-of-age story. The group continues to serve as a Greek chorus for the film with songs like Melody Fair (another painfully sweet coming-of-age tune from the feminine perspective), To Love Somebody and The First of May. The chaotic climax is scored with the amusingly ironic CS&N hit Teach Your Children which also makes a nice contrast to the English tunes on the rest of the soundtrack.
Melody failed to make much of an impression on its original release either in America or Britain. However it was a huge hit in Japan and a few other foreign countries before gradually developing into a worldwide cult film. Any US film fan familiar with the movie undoubtedly saw it on one of its frequent television airings when it was in syndication throughout most of the 70’s and early 80’s. The film seemed to disappear after that and aside from a very hard to find VHS cassette, Melody has never seen a legitimate release on home video in the US and truly qualifies as a lost film.
Sadly, the three stars of Melody were all at what would amount to the heights of their careers at this time. Mark Lester continued acting, but never again found the success he had enjoyed with Oliver! and retired a few years later. Jack Wild was a teen idol in America at the time thanks to his recent starring role in Sid & Marty Krofft’s H.R. Pufnstuf which was still being shown on Saturday morning television. He starred in a few more youth-oriented films but found himself unable to transition to adult roles and retired a few years after Lester. Tracy Hyde made a few television appearances following Melody and then vanished until the 1980’s when she returned to television in a handful of adult acting roles and then gave up the profession for good.
2011 marks the 40th anniversary of Melody but there are still no plans for a US DVD release in the works. For those who have never seen it or wish to see it again, keep an eye online for used VHS tapes and the occasional foreign DVD. This film is highly recommended both for the movie itself and the soundtrack which was originally released on LP and can be found on import CDs. Upon its original release, one reviewer referred to Melody as appearing to be a film about kids for kids which was in reality a film about kids for adults. Perhaps some of the scenes of juvenile mischievous violence may have made it appear that way then, but with the passage of time, Melody has become a film with something for all ages.