From Monthly Film Bulletin, May, 1973, p. 107
That'll Be the Day
Great Britain, 1973 Director: Claude Whatham
Cert--AA. dist--MGM-EMI. An Anglo-EMI presentation. p.c--Goodtimes Enterprises. exec.p--Roy Baird. p--David Puttnam, Sanford Lieberson. assoc. p--Gavrik Losey. asst. d--Gareth Thomas. sc/storty--Ray Connolly. ph--Peter Suschitzky. col--Te;chnicol. ed--Michael Bradsell. a.d.--Brian Morris. m/songs--(not yet available.) m. sup--Neil Aspinall, Keith Moon. addit. m--Wil Malone. sd. ed--Ian Fuller. sd. rec--Tony Jackson. sd. re-red--Bill Rowe. l.p--David Essex (Jim MacLaine), Ring Starr (Mike), Rosemary Leach (Mrs. LacLaine), James Booth (Mr. MacLaine), Billy Fury (Stormy Tempest5), Keith Moon (J.D. Clover), Rosalind Ayres (Jeanette)< Robert Lindsay (Terry Sutcliffe), Brenda Bruce (Doreen), Verna Harvey (WEndy), James Ottaway (Grandad), Deborah Watling (SAndra), Beth Morris (Jean), Daphne Oxenford (Mrs. Sutclifee), Kim Braden (Charlotte), Ron Hackett (Policeman), Johnny Shannon (Jack), Karl Howman (Johnny Swinburn), Patti Love (Sandra's Friend), Susan Holderness (Shirley)(, SAlly Watts (Helen), Valerie Lush (1st Old Lady on Beach). 8,192 ft. 91 mins.
To the dismay of his mother (already abandoned by her husband) and of his best schoolfriend, Terry Sutcliffe, Jim MacLaine quits school during his final exams and leaves home to live by his wits. He moves to the coast and works, first as a deck-chair attendant (visits from his mother and Terry only confirm his resolve), then as a barman in a holiday camp, where he meets another drifter, Mike. A friendly rivalry develops between them over the number of seductions each can notch up. Jim begins unimpressively with Sandra, a holidaymaker, but soon leaves Mike standing. At the same time, Jim is attracted by the camp's resident rock-and-roll band, whose leader Stormy Tempest is weathering a personality clash with the drummer J.D. Clover. After the summer, Mike introduces Jim to fairground work, and also to the techniques for tricking customers out of extra fares; but these rebound on Mike when a gang of teddy boys one day retaliates by beating him up, and the fairground boss Jack promotes Jim to Mike's job. When the fair moves near to his home town, Jim telephones Terry, who comes to visit him; he is depressed by Jim's way of life, and reciprocates by inviting Jim to a dance at his college, where Jim feels not only out of place but humiliated by his intended date, Charlotte. The experience shocks Jim, into returning home to help his mother run her shop. He meets Terry's younger sister Jeanette and proposes to her after a chaste courtship; he but impetuously spends his last free night with her best friend Jean. After the birth of a son, Jim finds himself bored with his wife and family life; he consistently skips evening classes in favor of rock-and-roll concerts, and a meeting with a former schoolfriend now playing in a group convinces him to try a career in music. He walks out on his wife and child, and buys a guitar.
That'll be the Day opens with a pre-title sequence showing Jim's father's return home on his demob, and his decision to leave his wife to raise their son alone; it closes with Jim himself taking the same action. A brief flashback at Jim's moment of decision suggests a devious link between the two events (like father, like son?), but the parallel is not explored; each event has a distinct context of psychological, social, political and material circumstances, and to relate the two as the film does is merely to create a suggestion of structure in a narrative that's essentially formless. The glibness of the device is all too revealing of the film's deficiencies: time and again it opts for an easy juxtaposition (Jim and Terry's divergent paths), or a scene crudely designed to illustrate a one-line lesson (Jim sowing his oats with a teenage schoolgirl and a worldly-wise Brenda Bruce in rapid succession), or a scene intended to lay bare character but in fact so schematic that it looks more like parody (Jim's lightning seduction of his bride's best friend). David Essex's solution to the script's demands for restless changes of character and behavior is (honourably) to play the role as essentially the same throughout, even in the scenes which focus on his degenerate phase: it comes as near as anything could to making the character work, and represents a brave debut in 'A' features. In fact, the entire cast tackle their ill-sketched parts with an enthusiasm and conviction unwarranted by either the script or the lifeless direction, so that those on the screen longest (like Ringo, in a type-cast part) fare worse than those making came appearances (James Booth registers more than almost anyone else in about twelve shots). There's every sign, paradoxically, that had the script not had pretensions to precisely the kind of sociological investigations that it evades, the film could have worked quite strongly. But Claude Watham, a director from television, does nothing either to make good the script's evasions or to paper over its yawning cracks; and the resulting film is as insubstantial as one of its own attempts at a statement.