O Lucky Man! Reviews
O Lucky Man! is the second instalment of Anderson's Mick Travis trilogy, following If.... and preceding Britannia Hospital. It is not so much a sequel as a companion piece to If...., with this Mick Travis being an everyman figure rather than just the grown-up version of the revolutionary schoolboy. Many of the cast of If.... return playing multiple, completely different roles, and aside from Travis there is little or no attempt made at direct continuity.
Where If.... was based on Anderson's experiences at public school, O Lucky Man! is loosely based on the life of Malcolm McDowell, who started out as a coffee salesman before wandering into acting and being cast in If.... almost by accident. The story of Mick Travis has been likened to Candide, Voltaire's sprawling 18th-century epic about an everyman indoctrinated with optimism, who journeys out into the world on a series of exciting and terrifying adventures.
As with Candide, O Lucky Man! has a picaresque structure, with an episodic, incredibly rambling storyline which is very difficult to summarise in a paragraph. It begins with Travis working for Imperial Coffee as a salesman and being put in charge of the North-East of England. Following his apparent success he is given Scotland as well, but ends up being interrogated by the military who believe he is a Russian agent. He manages to escape their torture after the base is attacked and evacuated.
With no money to speak of, Travis volunteers for a series of experiments led by Dr. Millar (Graham Crowden), who talks about using science to unlock the full potential of mankind. Upon his discovery of a patient who is half-man, half-sheep, Travis flees in fright, hitching a lift to London with Alan Price's band and falling in love with their groupie (Helen Mirren). Having wangled his way into meeting her father, the richest man in the world (Ralph Richardson), Travis becomes his personal assistant, only to be dragged into shady government dealings and imprisoned for fraud. Upon release he is robbed and beaten up by the homeless, leading him to wander into an audition with a film director, played self-referentially by Lindsay Anderson.
At this point you would normally have every reason to berate me for giving away the whole plot of the film. But the fact is that O Lucky Man! is very difficult to follow unless you have some prior idea of where it is going. At a slow-moving 183 minutes, it requires a massive amount of patience both to sit through and to tolerate the contrivances and oddities of its plot. There is still substance to be found, but many of its interesting ideas are severely compromised by their execution.
As with Candide, O Lucky Man! is at heart a social satire wrapped up in romantic and adventure elements. Like Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Voltaire was looking to create a work which could satirise society by means of elaborate, whimsical allegory - so elaborate and whimsical that it would slip through the net of church wrath or state censorship. Anderson attempts the same here with less immediate success, although his intentions are noble and his film has dated somewhat better than other contemporary satires, if only because its scope and themes are so universal.
O Lucky Man! is a satire of commercialism and ambition in a capitalist society. Travis begins the film guided by optimism, ambition and his willingness to do anything to get rich. Even before his success with Imperial Coffee, he seems to have totally abandoned his revolutionary principles, acknowledging either through maturity or base self-interest that the only way to make it in life is to fake it. Anderson's re-tuning of the character reflects both the selling-out of many of his left-wing comrades and Britain as a whole, which was slowly eroding or reversing its post-war achievements (something he would return to in Britannia Hospital).
The film is also about luck, with most of Travis' adventures coming about mostly from being in the right place at the right time. His success in the North-East comes largely from networking with the locals in a crowded showing of a porn film. When interrogated by the army, he begins to pretend that he is Russian to get it over with, and only escapes because the base is bombed. He becomes Sir James' assistant not because he has the skills or experience, but because he knew his daughter and just happened to be there when Professor Stewart (Crowden) committed suicide. "It's not what you know, it's who you know" may be a trite point to make, but Anderson plays it through with relish to show how hollow capitalist meritocracy can be.
As perfectly valid and interesting as these points may be, they often get misplaced or buried amongst the increasingly ridiculous series of events. Travis is supposed to be an everyman and yet his experiences become so fantastical that even when the allegory is played for obvious effect, they never quite tap into the nub of the issues. One could argue that this was done out of respect for the audience, with Anderson believing they could fill in the blanks rather than needing to be lectured. But there is too little for us to grip onto in our bid to decode the most esoteric elements, and at its worst the film resembles Sleeper, having to constantly be outlandish or wacky to keep things moving forward.
The tone of O Lucky Man! lurches around uncontrollably. The scenes in Dr. Millar's institute are played straight to maximise the horror, with certain scenes resembling H. G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau. But other scenes are almost parodies of Anderson's earlier work - the scene where Travis attempts to coax Mrs. Richards out of committing suicide is a total piss-take of kitchen-sink dialogue. Mrs. Richards is played by Rachael Roberts, star of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and This Sporting Life, who would tragically take her own life in 1980.
The recurrence of cast members like Graham Crowden, Rachael Roberts and Arthur Lowe give the impression that O Lucky Man! was partly or wholly made to get the old gang back together. Anderson was less confident that he had been on If.... and parts of the film feel that he was making it up as he went along (albeit not without success). Alan Price's band were incorporated into the film as a modern-day Greek chorus because Anderson had wanted to make a documentary about them but couldn't afford the licensing costs.
On top of all that, O Lucky Man! is littered with moments which are so completely out of left field that you have to pinch yourself. The strangest of these comes at Travis' trial when the judge goes back into his chambers, strips off to reveal next to nothing under his gown and is roundly whipped by the usher. Anderson could be making a point about public school habits or sexual perversity behind closed doors. But it does feel like we've wandered into the Monty Python sketch where the two judges strip off while talking about "waggling wigs" and "banging gavels".
O Lucky Man! is a sprawling and bizarre follow-up from Anderson, which confuses as much as it stimulates or enthrals. McDowell is excellent in the lead, giving us some form of a charismatic anchor for the story as it floats on increasingly choppy waters. Like The Bed-Sitting Room before it, it has a number of interesting and relevant ideas which are let down by their peculiar execution, and both films require immense patience to be fulfilling. It's massively and tragically flawed, but somehow still compelling.
There comes a time when you think you know something about movies: What is good, what is bad, how things should go, how things should work, etc., etc. Thank goodness a movie comes along now and again that says "no you don't - you know nothing!" Oh Lucky Man! is like Pulp Fiction and High Hopes - it is a smarter film than you are a film watcher.
After a build up like that you might expect for me to say that this is a perfect film or that everything works. But it doesn't. The story rambles and pauses, moves left and right and tries to keep the audience on its toes. The humour is mostly black, but very true to life. People are often selfish and acting for themselves - while Travis (our hero - if we can call him that) is quite kind and thoughtful. Like an Adam that has been put in to the modern world rather than the garden of Eden.
I have seen this film twice. Like many films, once when I was too young to understand it. It is quite sexual graphic at times and that stuck in my memory for a long time. In one scene a black man plays out a scene at a sex club - and to this day I am puzzled as to what this represents. That the entirely white audience see the black as an entertainer to laughed at or cheered. That this is his only place?
Most anything-goes films are comedies, and while this has plenty of black comedy, I see it as social comment. Life has moved on from the 1970's, people have escaped their own class more, women have more of a role to play, people get away with things less. But no one can say - even viewing today - that it doesn't tell plenty of home truths about the UK.
(People that live outside the UK and never visit must be puzzled by what goes on here. I bet you would have to answer hundreds of questions if you watched it beside, say, an American.)
Lindsey Anderson sees all authority as being violent, ugly and corrupt. This is the kick in the balls society that existed before CCTV in police stations and human rights acts. Where people were fitted up for crimes that the police knew they couldn't have committed. I never wanted to walk down a time tunnel to 1970's Britain and this film is probably the last tie I have to that ugly and desperate decade.
Oh Lucky Man! is one of the best films ever made. It has something that few films ever have - instant cult appeal. You could watch this over and over again and not get bored with it, see something different and learn something new. They should bring it back as a musical or a stage play. While not every scene works and not every tune pleases, it is cinema from another world that we never quite had - but might have had if only the money men of Hollywood hadn't made their ugly mark on the world.
If you think film is about anything more than simple entertainment Oh Lucky Man! is a must-see...
The film is a bloated study on some charismatic everyman facing a number of colorful shenanigans, yet as overlong as this film is because of filler, director Lindsay Anderson and screenwriter David Sherwin, interestingly enough, pays little attention to actually fleshing out the characters, or at least our lead Michael Arnold "Mick" Travis character, who is given no real background development, as well as sparse gradual development, thus leaving you to distance yourself a bit from this story and its lead, who is supposed to be an avatar for the viewer, but at least needs to be distinguished a little bit in order to compel for three whole hours. The limitations in expository depth try your patience a bit, though decidedly not as considerably as the limitations in atmospheric kick, because as entertaining as this film is on the whole, much of its liveliness runs on dry flavor, which is rich enough to work more often than not, but often gets to a bit too dry, quieting things down to a bland, perhaps even dull state that challenge engagement value. Pacing is hardly glacial, but the lack of momentum to Anderson's storytelling really thins out pacing to the point of making the length palpable, and let me tell you once again, this film's length probably shouldn't be felt as much as it is. At just about three hours in length, this fluffy comedy that follows nothing but extraordinary misadventures in the life of an ordinary Joe is way too blasted long, and sure, the final product proves to be engaging enough to make the three hours not too much of a pressing challenge, yet there's no getting around the fact that this film well outstays its welcome, and does so partially with repetitious material, but mostly with sheer filler, which ends up driving the narrative of the film. Needless to say, with filler being in charge of bonding the layers rather than focused and coherent substance, you end up with a collection of subplots that are intentionally jarring in their incorporation, but are still no less offputting in their plaguing focus with inconsistency that, before too long, devolved into aimlessness. The film is intentionally messy, and even if it wasn't, this type of subject matter didn't stand too great of a chance of being made into a relatively outstanding film, but you grow more and more aware of just how inconsequential things are the longer you stick with this overblown and overambitious opus, until you end up being not quite as rewarded as you might hope to be. That being said, if you're willing to go with this lengthy and incoherent ride, there will at least be one consistent aspect: enjoyment, as this film still has a lot to it to entertain just fine, particularly when musical aspects come into play.
Alan Price's score is mighty underused, and as for his relatively more recurring original songs, when they show up, they exacerbate the film's unevenness by being almost always presented through random footage of Price himself and his backing band syncing to the song in the studio in the place of actual footage of the film, so to my fellow Animal fans, I can't say that you'll be fully satisfied with this film's plays with its musical aspects, but I sure can assure you that, by their own right, the tunes in this song are thoroughly entertaining, and their incorporation colors up the film's entertainment value more than it proves to the detrimental to the film's already pretty tainted coherency. Sure, Price's score is unevenly used, and outside of decent moments in Miroslav Ondříček's cinematography, there's nothing else artistically sharp to hold you over until the soundtrack kicks back in the break up the relative quietness that backs this dry fluff piece about as much as anything, but musical aspects are ultimately worth the wait, breathing some life into entertainment value that this film is going to desperately need in order to keep you going, and delivers on adequately on paper, alone. There's little in the way of focus to this narrative that goes incoherently driven by a series of shenanigans which bond through convenience much more than consistent themes, and with such questionable areas within this story concept going emphasized by an ultimately overblown runtime to the final product, you end up with a "plot" whose engagement value is limited, but not so thin that there's not some potential for a fair bit of fun, done a fair bit of justice by highlights within David Sherwin's script, whose wit gets to be a bit too dry to consistently deliver on effective jokes, yet is generally sharply colorful, both with its humor and drawing of memorable, if a bit undercooked and over-the-top characters. Characterization is kind of sloppy in this film, but it ultimately puts together colorful components to this fluff piece that wouldn't be as enjoyable as they ultimately are without being portrayed with charisma that can be found across the board in this cast, particularly within Malcolm McDowell, whose down-to-earth charm makes him engaging as both a likable character and effective audience avatar. The performances prove to be colorful compliments to Sherwin's colorful compliments to storytelling, and as for the thematic depth of Sherwin's script, it's sometimes either too unsubtle or too subtle in the midst of over-the-top set pieces which get to lose focus after a while, but on the whole, it's about as colorfully clever as the script's humor and characterization, presenting allegories for analyses on a richly diverse, yet somewhat flawed capitalist society that not only get you thinking a bit, but add to the intrigue and entertainment value of this film. There's an inspiration to Sherwin's efforts, there's no denying that, and while it's just as difficult to deny the shortcomings in Sherwin's script, the writing for this film is fairly engaging, especially when brought to life by a certain heart to director Lindsay Anderson's efforts, which keep the dull spells from drying up too much, and makes the relatively lively spells very entertaining. If nothing else can be complimented about this film, it's a certain charm to the ambition which may be betrayed in plenty of places by questionable actions in storytelling, but ultimately proves to be endearing enough for you to kind of want to stick with this film, which makes that your investment is not totally squandered through an adequate, if still pretty disengagingly limited degree of entertainment value.
When the adventures are finally through, the final product sputters out to an underwhelming state, thanks to a lack of development, as well as an immense quantity of filler-driven dragging that carries incoherency and repetitious aimlessness, made all the more glaring by atmospheric dry spells which keep the film from picking up enough momentum to fully secure your investment throughout a three-hour runtime, which isn't to say that there's not enough lively, if unevenly used tunes, - courtesy of Alan Price - cleverness to a script by David Sherwin that delivers on witty humor, intriguing thematic depth, and colorful characterization, - done justice by many a charismatic performance - and flavor to Lindsay Anderson's direction to make "O Lucky Man!" a charming and often fairly entertaining, if exhaustingly overblown opus.
2.5/5 - Fair
Mick Travis is now a coffee salesman, travelling across 70s Britain and encountering many strange characters.
Malcolm McDowell is excellent as well as the rest of the cast which features a wealth of British talent.
2008 Movies: 125
I don't see how this is related to If.... apart from the shared cast and McDowell played a character named Mick Travis. Very disappointing "sequel".