Movies You Might Have Missed: Waris Hussein's Melody

Mark Lester as Daniel Latimer and Tracy Hyde as Melody Perkins in 'Melody'
Mark Lester as Daniel Latimer and Tracy Hyde as Melody Perkins in 'Melody'

Mark Lester and Jack Wild are best known for their roles as Oliver Twist and the Artful Dodger respectively in the 1968 musical Oliver! Just three years later, the pair reunited for Melody, a delightful film that tanked in the United States and Britain but, somewhat surprisingly, proved a huge hit in Japan and various Latin American countries.

Melody was released under the title S.W.A.L.K. in the United Kingdom due to British schoolchildren having a penchant for writing this acronym on the envelopes of love letters (it stands for Sealed With A Loving Kiss). The tagline, “The happiest film of all time” gives you some idea of the tone as director Waris Hussein and writer Alan Parker attempt to tell a story of puppy love entirely from the point of view of the children. Indeed, the adults play little more than supporting roles and rarely can the sunlit world of the prepubescent have been so perfectly captured on screen.

The plot unfolds at a leisurely pace entirely in keeping with the carefree days it depicts. Lester plays Daniel, a new boy at school who befriends the troublesome Ornshaw (Wild), thus ensuring a dynamic familiar to fans of Oliver! All appears to be well until Daniel falls in love with the titular Melody and the boys’ friendship becomes strained. Worse still, the couple announce their plan to marry immediately even if their parents are adamant they aren’t old enough.

Both Alejandro González Iñárritu and Wes Anderson are proclaimed fans of the film. Iñárritu has stated that it was one of the first movies that made an impact on him in his youth while there can be little doubt that Melody was a huge inspiration for Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, another tale of youthful infatuation that recognises kids can be every bit as myopic as adults when it comes to matters of the heart. In fact, Parker spent several months visiting schools in London and recording conversations with the children about their experiences before putting pen to paper. The producer, David Puttnam, felt this method of working was invaluable since large chunks of the dialogue were lifted entirely from actual schoolchildren.

The soundtrack, largely comprised of songs by the Bee Gees, is every bit as enchanting as the action it accompanies and, while this might not actually be the happiest film ever made, it is certainly one of the most nostalgic and undoubtedly a forgotten gem worth seeking out.