Nostalgic Cinema

Ferry Cross the Mersey (1965)

Ferry Cross the Mersey (UK, 1965) 88 min B&W DIR: Jeremy Summers. SCR: David Franden. STY: Tony Warren. PROD: Brian Epstein, Michael Holden. MUSIC: Gerry Marsden, George Martin. DOP: Gilbert Taylor. CAST: Gerry and the Pacemakers (Gerry Marsden, Fred Marsden, Les Chadwick, Les Maguire), Cilla Black, Julie Samuel, Mona Washbourne, T.P. McKenna. (United Artists)

One of the earliest and best of the “British invasion” musicals to appear in the wake of The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, this begins with a bang, as Gerry and the Pacemakers get off a plane to be greeted by a bunch of screaming fans as “It’s Gonna Be All Right” shouts on the soundtrack. The enthusiastic teens still pursue the group as the boys bound off in a car, and then we see them in the studio finishing the song we’ve been hearing. This exciting opening (replete with lots of zooms) certainly gives one a sense of Beatlemania déjà vu, and perhaps fittingly so, as Hard Day’s Night cinematographer Gil Taylor is back to do the crisp black and white photography. Plus, the musical director is George Martin, and the film is also co-exec produced by Brian Epstein! The film then becomes a quasi-biopic as Gerry Marsden’s voiceover talks about his upbringing, during footage of kids on a cobblestone street. Kids had to make their own fun, he says, and eventually music became “the thing” for the boys. This sequence ends with the camera prowling through an underground club, almost documentary style, as Gerry and the lads sing “Why Oh Why”.

In addition to the crisp pseudo-documentary “day in the life” of the boys, obviously influenced by A Hard Day’s Night, this picture also carries on that film’s lunatic tradition, with Gerry getting up and going through his morning routine in fast motion, while a song on the soundtrack is heard in 45 RPM. Cute. This device goes a long way in explaining the everyday doldrums that the boys are eager to escape from. In fact the picture is peppered with potshots at a stifling old English culture that are converse to the excitement and the sounds of the band. The boarders in his Aunt Lil’s home are like those old guys in Coronation Street (ironically, Tony Warren, that show’s creator did this film’s original story); teachers are stiff old bow-tied men, and in one surreal though pointed bit, we see players in a classical recital as monkeys!

Sight and sound gags (like a pretty good routine in a warehouse) and slapstick sundries carry on the blueprint of lunacy in the Richard Lester Beatles films, though somewhat toned down. Yet the device of seeing people move around in fast motion would soon be a familiar tired device in subsequent films of this subgenre, so desperate are they for new ideas. As a bit of foresight, Aunt Lil is played by Mona Washbourne, who would also appear with Herman’s Hermits in Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter. To be certain, Ferry spends no great effort on plot, which is serviceable, but just provides an excuse for the boys to pull out guitars and sing. Gerry’s morning rendezvous with the boys on the (ha ha) ferry cross the Mersey, goofing around an art modelling school, and a scene in a restaurant all provide excuses to perform songs.

Gerry’s girlfriend Dodie Dawson (Julie Samuel) approaches Mr. Hansen (T.P. McKenna) to manage Gerry’s band because “they’re fab; they’re gear”. Once he hears the boys sing “I’m In Love With You”, he’s hip to their gear sound, too, but they have to win a contest first (a plot device best used in films to showcase musical talent). Plot meagrely rears its head for an anticlimax where the guys scramble to get their instruments from the airport before the contest. But is it gonna be all right all right all right? You betcha! Ferry Cross The Mersey is rock-solid entertainment, capably directed by genre filmmaker Jeremy Summers. It remains an irresistible time capsule of the days of the British Invasion.