Media Reviews

 

Newsweek

p113, April 12 1971

Dirty Diamonds

What is it about English schoolchildren? You can hardly make a bad picture about them. This one, Melody, is a pure delight, a film with great stars and supporting cast, fabulous camera work (Peter Suschitzky), a sensitive script and a fine score written and executed primarily by the first-rate Australian rock group, the Bee Gees. The stars are those two dirty diamonds from Oliver, Jack Wild and Mark Lester – plus newcomer Tracy Hyde, an eleven-year-old bird whose adolescent pinfeathers promise a beautiful plumage of full femininity. The story explores the generation gap with gentle clucking sympathy and no little humor, especially in the quintessential scenes of classroom and schoolyard antics where boys pitch pennies, swaggeringly puff away on cigs and the girls flutter together, tittering like sparrows about incipient urges and feelings they haven't quite sorted out yet.

Wild and Lester play chums from different sides of the tracks. Wild, as Ornshaw, has an old grandfather he tends in slummy digs while trying to keep himself together. Lester, all blonde silk as Danny, has brittle parents who hardly know he's there. Lester falls for Tracy Hyde, the Melody he spies doing ballet exercises in dancing class – a crush that can't help but cut into his relationship with feisty, sadly vulnerable Ornshaw, who loves goofing off and ogling birds in Trafalgar Square, hitting the penny arcades and hiding his loneliness behind his mimicry of adult idiocies. The most touching part, which is shot through with hilarious hijinks, comes as Melody tells her parents that, at something like 12, she wants to marry Danny. As her utterly perplexed father, Roy Kinnear turns in a performance that should melt the flintiest grandmum's heart trying to explain why it's best to wait.

The film braves bathos with the notion that these youngsters seriously want to spend their lives together, but avoids it by having the children, attended by hordes of chums, stage a mock (but very serious) marriage under a derelict viaduct. The teachers and parents try to raid the ceremony and are confronted by an array not so much hostile as whimsically vengeful for being treated as second-class citizens by adult authority. There's not a streak of real meanness anywhere in the picture. It's all cotton candy, Ferris wheels, sand castles and goldfish in glass bottles – a combination of graphic nostalgia and lyrical innocence that one seldom finds these days on the slavering screen.

S.K. Oberbeck

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Time

V.97 pp. 99-100 May 10 1971

Shedding darkness on the youth culture

Melody is about a lonely eleven-year old boy (Mark Lester) and a misunderstood schoolmate (Tracy Hyde) who fall in love and are ridiculed by the parents, teachers and peers, but who eventually wed in a ceremony conducted by the boy's best friend (Jack Wild). The denouement finds all the school kids backing the prepubescent romance and holding their teachers off while the happy couple pump away into the sunset on a railroad handcar. There are some good secondary scenes of teasing and classroom high jinks, and excellent photography by Peter Suschitzky, who tries to give spice to an otherwise far too sugary project.

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New York

"Melody features high romance between two 11-year-olds who want to marry to ‘be together always’ because it’s more interesting than school. The school these two attend, allegedly a state school, makes Dotheboys Hall look like a liberated version of Summerhill; it is run by morons and maniacs and these 11-year-olds are beaten for not consuming Latin whole . . . The teeny ones are drawn together, playing hookey at the beach, building sand-castles and huddling morosely in a cemetery (thank heavens they don’t play doctor; since Mark Lester looks 8 and Tracy Hyde a skinny 16, the platonic tone of the affair is appreciated). And though they despise adults and their ways and have appalling samples of domesticity at home, they decide to marry. The entire school faculty (complete with fat lady teacher on motorcycle) arrives to break it up, there’s a free-for-all during which the adults get their clothes torn off, a boy bomb-maker blows up Lester’s mother’s car and everyone flees while the young newlyweds take off . . . High comedy? Shades of If...? Producer David Puttnam and writer Alan Parker are neophytes, but director Waris Hussein knows from manure. After all, his last opus, Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx, dealt with the love life of a retarded dung-collector."

Judith Crist (4/5/71).

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Cue

"When looking at growing-up days through the eyes of pre-teenagers in a British school, Melody is delightful in a most refreshing manner. Toward the end, clumsy adult ideas are superimposed, and you can’t believe the plot twist. One accepts the idea of children wanting to stage a wedding, but it is an adult concept of cuteness to envision them seriously trying to convince grown-ups that they should be permitted to be man and wife. This major flaw aside, most of the film is lively, funny, endearing, and sensible. Mark Lester and Tracy Hyde are a charming couple of kids, and Jack Wild, although way up in his teens, skillfully manages to act young enough to be the boy upset at seeing his pal draw away from him toward a girl. Director Waris Hussein has loaded his movie with sly slice-of-life observations about schools, feelings, children, and grown-ups. Older children should enjoy the film, and adults have a good time making some rediscoveries."

William Wolf (4/3/71). 

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Newsday

"Melody is a pre-teen If..., the story of British school children who rebel and terrorize their faculty and parents. As you might guess, this new film is more charming and less plausible than the prep-school version. Even if you can withhold your disbelief about the pubescent set getting ‘married’ and becoming bomb throwers, you may still conceivably be fretful about the film’s apparent endorsement of an attack on adults
I recognize the limitations of the film and therefore don’t make great demands on it. Melody is a minor work with more commercial savvy than profound sincerity. It is derivative (nor only from If.. but also from the film which influenced that one — Zero for Conduct — which was about the same-age children). It is slick and has a name rock group, The Bee Gees, doing romantic songs on the soundtrack. The plot is pat, but director Waris Hussein does get some nice moments with his secondary characters like Roy Kinnear as the girl’s flabby father. In the leading roles are Jack Wild and Mark Lester of Oliver!"

Joseph Gelmis (3/29/71).

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TV Guide

Melody

OLIVER! star Mark Lester plays Daniel Latimer, a preteen who falls in love with and decides to marry a young girl his age (Tracy Hyde). They inform their parents of their plans despite the pleas of an older friend (Jack Wild, another OLIVER! veteran). The plot isn't very convincing, but the actors' charming innocence more than makes up for it, and a plus for Bee Gees fans is a fine score performed by the group that sounds nothing like SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER and includes "Teach Your Children," "To Love Somebody," and "Working on It Night and Day." Scriptwriter Alan Parker would go on to direct MIDNIGHT EXPRESS and PINK FLOYD--THE WALL, while producer David Puttnam would later deliver CHARIOTS OF FIRE.

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Film Facts

Synopsis
At a South London elementary school, two lonely classmates of opposite backgrounds strike up a close friendship — Daniel Latimer, a well-bred introvert who is neglected by his middle-class parents; and Ornshaw, an aggressive cynic who lives with his impoverished grandfather. During the course of their many misadventures, Daniel and Ornshaw visit Piccadilly Circus andlater get thrashed by their Latin teacher for not doing their homework.
Their companionship is affected when Daniel spots 1l-year-old Melody Perkins doing exercises in ballet class and becomes attracted to her. Though Melody’ at first scoffs at Daniel’s awkward advances, she gradually reciprocates and returns his feelings.
Resentful that Daniel is spending so much time with Melody, Ornshaw joins the other students in jeering at the young couple, and eventually goads Daniel into a fist-fight. When Daniel wins, the two boys come to a new under-standing.
While playing hookey from school at the sea-shore, Daniel and Melody realize they are in love, and decide to get married. When the headmaster and the children’s parents respond to their marital intentions with incredulity and even ridicule, the other students come to regard Melody and Daniel’s predicament as a rebellion against the establishment and resolve to help them.
At a makeshift chapel by the railroad tracks, Ornshaw "marries" Melody and Daniel just as carloads of parents and teachers arrive to prevent the ceremony. In retaliation, the children attack the adults with home-made bombs and even blow up Daniel’s mother’s car. During the melee, the two young "newlyweds" escape on a railroad hand car.

Critique
SUMMARY. Reuniting Jack Wild and Mark Lester, the young stars of Oliver! (FF ‘68), Melody pleased most critics, many of whom acknowledged the picture’s thematic resemblance to such classics of rebellious youth as Zero de Conduite (1933), The Graduate (FE ‘67), and If.. (EF ‘69).
The N.Y. Daily News’ Wanda Hale wrote that this "delightful, refreshing and amusing" look at students in a London grade school culminated in "a wild, hilariously funny student revolution," and was directed by Waris Hussein with "tenderness, wisdom and humor." The Los Angeles Times’ Kevin Thomas asserted that the "enchanting" film —. "more an evocation of childhood on the brink of adolescence than a narrative in the usual sense" — was "filled with images of beauty and innocence."
And Newsday’s S.K. Oberbeck hailed Melody as "pure delight, a film with great stars and supporting cast, fabulous camera work (Peter Suschitzky), a sensitive script and a fine score written and executed primarily by the first-rate Australian rock group, the Bee Gees."
Although Variety’s ‘Gold’ challenged Oberbeck on the latter point ("the rock score is often inappropriate in tone"). and further conjectured that adults might be disturbed by the movie’s portrayal of "parents and teachers as ridiculous or ineffectual," he nevertheless concluded that ‘ individual scenes are wonderfully entertaining throughout," and that "screen-writer Alan Parker and director Waris Hussein are to be congratulated for attempting something that is a lot closer to what kids are about than the mush they’re usually served at matinees."
The Village Voice’s Richard McGuinness, however, was of two minds concerning Hussein’s direction: While commending Hussein’s "talent in giving every face and expression its right exposure, McGuinness objected to the director’s concentration on the film’s "heroes" (Mark Lester, Tracy Hyde) and sloughing off the "confused, resentful, apathetic people in life" (Jack Wild).
Overall, although the New Yorker’s Penelope Gilliatr held that the picture’s appeal was limited to the "under-sevens" (‘an adult is likely to find it as long as ‘The Ring,’ and anyone over ten could justly call it naive"), the majority supported Oberbeck that Melody offered moviegoers of all ages "a combination of graphic nostalgia and lyrical innocence that one seldom finds these days on the slavering screen."

Critical Consensus: 6 favorable, 2 mixed, 2 negative.
 

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 International Film Review 1971-71

SWALK (Originally shown as Melody)

Initially a delightful series of delicate sketches of childhood (the friendship of a young, good-hearted ruffian with a gentle, middle-class lad; the latter's falling in love with a girl) which gets coarser and less credible as in seeking a climax it veers to comedy and even farce in its presentation of a battle between the students of a terrifying comprehensive school and its moronic masters.

Released July 25, 107 mins Cert A

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Film Review 1972-73

Screened originally as Melody but re-titled SWALK for it's general release, British Lion's film was a strange mixture of initial delicate sketches of youth and, later, farce as it developed into a story of a conflict between the students of a horrific comprehensive school and their moronic masters. Among the youngsters involved" Oliver stars Mark Lester and Jack Wild.

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The Screen Image of Youth: Movies About Children and Adolescents

By Ruth M. Goldstein and Edith Zorrow,  London: The Scarecrow Press, 1980

Melody

Great Britain, 1971. 107 mins. Col.

Reuniting Jack Wild and Mark Lester (Oliver) in a charming comedy with music about rebellious preteens in a London grade school, Melody pleased most critics. Its wild and hilarious student revolution is hardly on a par with those in "Zero de Conduite" and "If. . . ", but the director, Waris Hussein, has handled his eleven-year-olds with tenderness and humor.

Two lonely youngsters in a South London elementary school strike up a close friendship - Daniel Latimer (Mark Lester), a well-bred introvert, neglected by his middle-class parents, and Ornshaw (Jack Wild), an aggressive young cynic who lives with his impoverished grandfather.

Their companionship is affected when Daniel falls in love with eleven-year-old Melody Perkins (Tracy Hyde) while she is doing exercises in ballet class. There is a fight; when Daniel wins, the friends come to a new understanding.

The decision of Daniel and Melody to get married greeted by parents and headmaster with incredulous ridicule - is interpreted by the other students as a rebellion against the establishment. They decide to help them. At a makeshift chapel by the railroad tracks, Ornshaw "marries" Melody and Daniel just as carloads of adults arrive to prevent the ceremony. In retaliation, the children attack teachers and parents with homemade bombs and even blow up Daniel's mother's car. During the melee, the "newlyweds" escape in a hand car. We are left to wonder: do they live happily ever after?

Is this a preteen "The Graduate"? Fluff and nonsense? Or a refreshing look at eleven-year-olds at a recognizable school? See it and decide.

The songs performed by the Bee Gees, include "Teach Your Children," "In the Morning of My Life," "Give Your Best to Your Friends" & "First of May"

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 America

124:435-6 April 24 1971 pp. 435 & 436

Melody features both Jack Wild and Mark Lester as, respectively, a resilient slum dweller and a poor little rich boy, drawn together by mutual loneliness. Their friendship disintegrates when Mark and a pretty schoolmate named Melody (Tracy Hyde) fall head-over-heels into 12-year-old puppy love and announce to their thunderstruck parents that they want to get married. In a slam-bang finale they actually elope on a handcar protected from adult pursuit by their rampaging fellow pupils. This picture takes a child’s-eye view of the generation gap that is by turns funny and sobering. There really isn't much story - the ending is a cop-out. But director Waris Hussein holds our attention, none the less, by making the children captivatingly real and yet surrounding the proceedings with a saving aura of fantasy.

Moira Walsh

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Films in Review

(N.Y.) V. 12 n.5 May, 1971 p314

Melody

You might think you've seen and heard everything about the generation gap but British-made Melody will prove you wrong. Its thesis: pre-teenagers have a legitimate gripe when their parents think they're too young to marry, and are justified in 'rebelling' and using dynamite when they do so. No, this is not played as comedy or as satire (the politically activist "Newsweek" reviewed and approved it with a "straight" face). In the last few years movies have encouraged so many "minorities" to "revolt" that I'm afraid Melody's plea on behalf of 11-year-olds leaves but one component of the population without a political activist agitating on its behalf: babes at the breast. Who knows? Perhaps the SDS or the Weathermen will supply these oppressed creatures with bibs embroidered with slogans that denounce woman's lib.

Arlene Kramborg

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Films & Filming

v.17 no 9 June 1971 pp. 74,76

Melody

Sheila Steafel, in her second film to come under review in recent weeks - the other was Percy - emerges as a redoubtable actress, in a basically not very rewarding role as a young mother who embodies all the worst elements of snobbishness, liberal-mindedness, as long as her liberality is not strained too far, trendiness and sublime self-gratification over her method of bringing up her 11-year-old son Daniel Latimer (Mark Lester).

It is a portrait etched in vinegar and coated, ever so slightly, with honey; she delivers her barbs with head thrown back in a posture reminiscent of a cobra poised to strike, and has the rare faculty, shared by another revue-trained actress, Beryl Reid, of rounding out the character, so that one feels one knows all about woman's life, apart from her existence in this particular film.

Sheila Steafel's experience in this genre of revue, has come largely from the thin edge of the wedge to various comedians, and, as is generally the case, it has often been a very thin end indeed. Although in one TV play she appeared as a butch and lonely lesbian - not a very creditable performance, she has not, as yet, been called upon to show evidence of the warmth which suffuses all Beryl Reid's characterisations, but could nevertheless be a welcome addition to the short list of star-character actresses in films.

While Sheila Steafel and some of the other actors, notably Kate Williams and Roy Kinnear as Melody's (Tracy Hyde) parents, the one invariably pregnant and the other always either in the nick or the local pub, and James Cossins as the desperately would-be "with-it" Headmaster of Melody and Daniel’s school, express exactly the grown-up obtuseness which prevents their communicating with the children in their care, the film adds up to an uneasy blend of "If", with the schoolchildren rebelling with eventual violence against the faculty, whom they put to rout and ridicule, and "Twinky", with the 11-year-old sweethearts being "married" in a ceremony performed by their cockney mate at the school, Ornshaw (Jack Wild).

The affair is mercifully bereft of obvious sexual connotations and the children held up as idealistic innocents, in contrast with the invariably venal and foolish elders, but the film's message of "You must find me charming. Because I'm on the side of the lonely and misunderstood" is first vulgarised and then blared out of existence by the monotonous insistence of the Bee Gees' soundtrack music. Not to mention the invitation to find the blowing up of Mrs. Latimer's car by a home-made bomb in an Olvaltine tin made by one of the children, after all his previous attempts to detonate his amateur charges have ended in a feeble "plop", hilariously funny. Sheila Steafel's beautifully underplayed expression of slightly dismayed contempt is the most apt comment.

The atmosphere of the Comprehensive School, filmed on the spot at Lambeth, is meticulously observed, and the children well-chosen, notably a plump little girl with protruding teeth. Jack Wild manages to make a real person out of the scruffy and friendly Ornshaw, suggesting an English Mickey Rooney, without the obvious 'mugging' to which Rooney was too often prone. One hopes he doesn't have to face similar problems in the inevitable transition from the 'child'- he is already 17 - to adult actor.

One of the happiest touches at the school is the history master's idea of an infallible aide-memoire for some remote historical battle: Saucy Turtles Make Highly Teasing Bathmats!"

[ It was actually Saucy Turtles Make Terrible Bath Mats Charlie.  - SWALK ]

Eric Braun

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Media & Methods

10:27 October 1973

 . . . and the Melody lingers on.

By John S. Schramm

Would your school dare show a film that captures life in school as it really is for an infinite number of young students today? Does your school dare show a film that students cheer because they recognize their own lives, a film that is audacious enough to provoke teachers into a reassessment of their own classroom postures, mores, and values? Show "Melody"! It bubbles with many talented English children directed by a young, precocious director, Waris Hussein ("Touch of Love," "Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx"), who clearly shows that he was educated in English schools. He knows the scene well and demonstrates startling empathy for an age that rarely has been so completely captured on film.

Mr. Hussein allows us to perceive school and home environments intimately. Nearly all of the adults in the film are caricatured: the schoolmaster is pompous; the Latin teacher, an authoritarian windbag; Danny's mother, a flighty, vacuous social-climber. Essentially, we see everything from a child's eye and heart. The story unfolds slowly, lyrically . . . taking on the quality of a fairly tale. Individual scenes, however, flesh out with great verisimilitude, the swarming helter-skelter rush of kids in narrow school halls, the badgering and baiting between young boys, and the texture of family life in London.

Because Melody, is realistically and romantically sketched, it may well give teachers something to think about concerning their own classroom doldrums and the reasons for them. For some teachers it can be a painful experience and an experience that may not presage any changes.

Too many teachers still hold to the idea that students are blank paces that they, the teachers, must fill in with all kinds of factual data, and that, while this process is going on, the students should remain properly quiet, attentive, and industrious.

However, for many teachers it may be a reminder of the barrenness of many classroom situations because they bring only their physical selves to their students. Many teachers will be able to discuss openly with their students why the irrepressible kids of "Melody" are not at all impressed with classroom lessons that consist only of questions for students, and disallows questions that come back from them.

And, unfortunately, some teachers will call for repression of "Melody" because it vividly points out the extremes to which young people will go when they attempt to escape the confines of stifling institutional life which apparently wants to stamp out and annihilate genuine emotion.

Five thousand Chester-Upland students looked at "Melody" some months ago and this filmic breath of fresh air with a delightful BeeGee's score was acclaimed by them as the best picture they had ever seen. "This film tells it like it is in school!" " 'Melody' is the best film I've ever seen!" " 'Melody' must have been made by kids because it's so true!" "Please show 'Melody' again, and again! "

The reason for their enthusiasm is apparent in the first sequences of the film when Daniel Latimer (played by Mark Lester) is seen as the victim of a social-climbing mother who pushes him into a weekend band program for which he has no interest, while his genuine motivations toward art are stifled because he wants to draw a female figure. Living with parents who hide behind newspapers, refuse to hear him at dinner requesting food, and break their promises to him while blithely directing him to watch TV alone, Daniel finds a friend for whom life at school and at home is equally arid.

Melody (played by Tracy Hyde) is quite willing to trade her own and her mother's clothes for a goldfish in a common glass jar, something to provide an emotional outlet which would offset the restricted emotional life of her home. Her well-meaning lower class parents who are struggling to maintain themselves economically, spend most of their time watching, TV and going to the pub around the corner. They have little time, therefore, to show Melody that she is an important part of the family and that feelings for a boy her own age is not unnatural.

The dynamite in the home-made bomb which is the special project of a school chum provides explosive elements of this scintillating film about contemporary youth. Mark Lester and Tracy Hyde are delightful as they portray two youngsters caught in mutual attraction. Mark has a face which has made its unique place in films as a perfect rendition of English sensibility, refinement, and an eon of civilized breeding. His tentative movements of shyness and aggression, matched against the bluster and determined pride of Ornshaw (played by lack Wild, the Artful Dodger of "Oliver!"), is a contrast which makes the friendship that develops between Daniel and Ornshaw understandable.

 Films that capture the spontaneity of youth and, at the same time, the insulating confinement of school routine are rare. Waris Hussein must be possessed of many memories of the classroom for the marvelous episodes of this film are not only a display of virtuosity in camera direction, but they reveal unusual courage and artistic integrity. He never compromises the incident, nor does he ever over-dramatize the intimate moments of the screenplay by Alan Parker.

For example, one brief sequence depicts the lengths to which the students in the assembly hall-where chaos reigns-go to make sure that Melody knows Daniel is mooning over her. Only the momentary communication that takes places between them in furtive glances is the climax of the scene. Another sequence sketches the first genuine communication between the two young lovers when Daniel, coming for an audition (he plays the cello), encounters Melody waiting with a girlfriend for a similar audition. Melody, a devotee of the recorder, is well aware of the gossip around school concerning the admiration Daniel feels for her. When Daniel and Melody are left alone, Melody begins to practice the school cliché, "Frere Jacques." Afraid to speak, Daniel is not afraid to accompany her on the cello. The momentary spell of love is broken by the teacher calling for Daniel to deliver a note. As Daniel leaves the room, his farewell smile is enchantingly recorded, and in it we see triumph, clandestine satisfaction, and the inner amazement of his own startled ego. Success can be grasped maybe!

"Melody" moves quickly on with other ingenuous scenes in which young people are caught by a camera that appears to have sneaked its lenses around corners and captured those moments we all remember. There is the pressure of athletic events where only those rare gods of the campus can jump high enough or run fast enough, while all others are doomed to receive the sneers of the coach who needs to shine against other coaches. Then there is the first meeting of Daniel with Melody's family, when the children are given the reminiscences of the elders as the entree.

Ornshaw, the loyal Cockney friend, must suffer being shoved aside when Daniel and Melody seek out privacy and want to be alone. The mystery of time for the young is recorded when Melody looks at the cemetery headstones and discovers that one husband had loved his wife for fifty years.

"How long is fifty years?" Melody wants to know.

"A hundred and fifty school terms, not including holidays," rattles the precocious Daniel.

"I don't think you will love me long," Melody ventures to Daniel.

Daniel denies any cessation of his love: "I've already loved you a whole week, haven't I?"

For Daniel and Melody, to be married means being together all the time. Therefore, why not get married? But this intention brings the world down about them. The friends they have had now jeer them. Daniel fights with Ornshaw in the classroom, where disgrace is out in the open. The school officials must punish. Parents ridicule the idea of marriage. Melody and Daniel cannot face home again. They suffer in the quiet of the peaceful cemetery, albeit in a drenching downpour, rather than suffer at home. But home they must go. There is no place else.

The companionship they desire has outraged the world of "the old miseries." Daniel lies on his bed in his always-lonely home. Melody's parents try to explain that marriage is much more than just being together, and that, besides, Melody is so good in geography.

"But I like being with Danny better than I like doing geography " she sensibly explains.

The two lovers can live in fantasy if not in reality. The friends they have return to them in a projection of what youth really wants: affection, belonging, communication. Under the railroad bridge in a deserted area of London, the play wedding is carried out. "Do you take this woman to be your lawful wife," Ornshaw seriously intones.

I do," replies Daniel.

"I thought you might," the minister gratuitously adds.

But the school strikes back. The wedding is attacked by the entire faculty while Daniel's mother looks on. The children counterattack. They outnumber the teachers. This time they reject repression. They defend themselves. Clothes are torn off. Blows are struck. And the screams rise to a revolutionary crescendo, while the sound track records the comment made by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young: "Teach your, parents well. . . . And know they love you.

The older generation loses this one. Perhaps they have very little to say to the young. A beautiful little car, symbolic of what the adult world is really interested in, is blown up. The elders retreat. Daniel and Melody, defended by their best friend, Ornshaw, are protected from harm and escape the chaos. The hand trolley is on the old tracks. By pushing for themselves, the young can survive, and Melody with her Daniel rides off into the sunset. They will, undoubtedly, come back for tea . . . but not right now.

 

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