Kipperbang is the latest in a series of charmingly low-key films – produced under the umbrella called “First Love” – by David Puttnam, the busy British producer who walked off with an Oscar a couple of years ago for Chariots of Fire. Puttnam’s series concentrates on that moment in adolescence when the problems of the outside world pale beside the mountainous dilemma of the first crush.
Other films in the series include Experience Preferred – But Not Essential, and Secrets. For Kipperbang, Puttnam called on director Michael Apted, with whom he had worked on the rock movie Stardust in 1974. Apted, who did the lovely Coal Miner’s Daughter and then the muddled Continental Divide and Gorky Park for Hollywood, may have been grateful to get back to the vignette-like scale of Kipperbang.
Anyway, he’s certainly done a very nice job. It’s set in 1948, and concerns a likable 14-year-old lad named Alan Duckworth (known, of course, as Quack Quack). Alan isn’t a bad sort, but he’s not exactly on a lucky streak. To give you an idea of his impact on his peers, when the girls in his grade vote for the “dishiest” – read “most awesome” in today’s vernacular – boy in class, Alan doesn’t suffer the humiliation of pulling a low vote – he isn’t even nominated. The girls forgot about him.
He is bewitched by a classmate named Ann. When he lies in bed at night – or anytime – he bargains with God for just one single kiss from those pouty lips. One kiss, and Alan figures he will have led a happy life. One kiss. That’s not so much, is it?
Of course, it’s never going to happen. How could it? Ann’s got eyes only for Geoffrey, the dishiest boy in class. But never underestimate the mysterious ways of divine providence. A teacher (who is involved in the film’s main subplot, wherein she may be pregnant by the school’s groundsman, who is also Alan’s hero), weary of Alan’s daydreaming, sticks him in the school play.
The other two thespians are Ann and Geoffrey. And when Alan gets to the last page of the play, he discovers – oh ecstasy of ecstasies – that his character actually kisses Ann as the play ends!
Apted directs this wisp of a tale with proper affection for the characters. There’s lots of quirky behavioral business, especially with the class nerds and their polysyllabic nonsense.
And Apted does a wonderful job with the moment onstage when the kiss is called for (in rehearsal, the kiss keeps getting nixed by circumstance). Alan, all a-quiver (and his stage moustache all akimbo), approaches Ann with the life-and-death resolve he knows he needs. It’s the best suspense sequence of the year – Steven Spielberg notwithstanding.
First published in the Herald, June 16, 1984
According to my memory, a really wonderful movie, one of Apted’s best. The little short blurb next to my review had the actors’ names in it, but let’s give them their due: John Albasiny played Quack Quack and hasn’t amassed a great many credits; Abigail Cruttenden played Ann, and has many jobs on her resumé, including being married to Sean Bean for a while. Maurice Dee, who played Geoffrey, also did not stick in movies and TV. One of the biggest adult roles went to the great Alison Steadman, another to the prolific Garry Cooper. The screenwriter was Jack Rosenthal, who wrote a huge amount of British television and also – how do these things happen? – the Barbra Streisand picture Yentl. The film’s British title is P’tang Yang Kipperbang, for the piece of kid doggerel some of the characters say. Puttnam’s “First Love” series made a nice little impression at the arthouse; I reviewed most of them, including Sharma and Beyond, Arthur’s Hallowed Ground, Those Glory, Glory Days, and Winter Flight.