O Lucky Man!

Year 1973

Malcolm McDowell   as  Mick Travis
Ralph Richardson as Monty/Sir James Burgess
Rachel Roberts as Montes/Paillard/Mrs. Richards  
Arthur Lowe  as Dr. Munda/Duff
Helen Mirren as Patricia
Director - Lindsay Anderson
Screenwriter - David Sherwin   

Clocking in at nearly three hours, O Lucky Man! is more of a long term committment than a casual movie watching experience. There's a lot going on in this movie. It's part musical, part fable, part surreal journey of growth, and part surreality for its own sake. It's also periodically slow and dated.

In 1968, a movie starring Malcolm McDowell titled If.... was very popular in England. (I never heard of it in the the US.) It catapulted Malcolm McDowell to stardom, at least in the UK so that when Kubrik was casting for Alex in A Clockwork Orange, he decided that Malcolm McDowell was the actor he needed. This was McDowell's internationally defining role. Then, in 1973 McDowell and the director of If.... (Lindsay Anderson ) decided to do another movie together. That movie was O Lucky Man!. If all you know of Malcolm McDowell is his Alex character in A Clockwork Orange, then check out O Lucky Man! to see McDowell as something completely different.

You see, I never completely bought McDowell as the evil Alex. He just seemed too small and unthreatening. Others have a different opinion, but that's mine. Why do I mention all this? Because McDowell's Michael Travers character in O Lucky Man! is more in keeping with how I imagine McDowell the man really is.

In O Lucky Man!, he's a likable naif trying to get rich using his good looks and personality. He's not worldly wise and has no conception of what it takes to become a financial magnate. He just knows that it's what he wants to be. So he starts off on his journey to wealth by being a coffee seller. Yes, he's a sales representative for Imperial coffee. This job as well as some of the anecdotes are autobiographical.

Michael, or Mick, rises rapidly and finds potential comfort and a source of decent income as this coffee seller. He also finds lots of women. But there are hints that things aren't what they seem behind the curtain. Police aren't necessarily honest, businessmen are manipulators, the military is ruthless, and medical research centers are without compassion. Yet Mick continues to ignore the dark side of things and carry on. He has selective memory and a one-track mind.

Then he falls in love and redoubles his efforts to succeed. Not only does he fail, his naiveté sets him up for a prison stretch where he reads philosophers who espouse the notion of loving your fellow man. Because Mick is Mick, he comes to believe this as he believes everything - completely and without a critical eye. After being released, this philosophy backfires on him. (If you have not seen the version of the movie with Mick meeting Patricia in a vagabond camp, then you are missing the fact that the "love thy brother unconditionally" philosophy is as bad as the "I need to be wealthy" point of view.) In the end, his life is saved through acting.

It's okay to know this ahead of time, because the outcome of the movie isn't as important as the journey. Mick's has nothing but good luck and serendipity until entering Scotland. Was this intentional? It might have been a warning to avoid Scotland because after this, things go downhill fast. For example, at the military base there he's arrested and tortured until he confesses to being a spy. In the midst of an attack on the base, a cafeteria worker releases Mick from his bonds and he escapes.

Yes, the movie has those types of scenes. Mick's strapped down and receiving electric shocks. In comes a cafeteria worker selling coffee and donuts to Mick's torturers. She's told that Mick doesn't want anything yet. It's not even noteworthy for the woman.

There's a scene in one episode of Seinfeld where Kramer comes across a person in a hospital with a man's head and the body of beast. That was lifted from O Lucky Man!.

Intermixed throughout is the music of Alan Price who is a composer for movie scores. There's singing, and fortunately no dancing, at intervals throughout the movie. Sometimes the singing is Alan Price and his band rehearsing, sometimes he's in a recording studio, sometimes it's like a background score. It's varied.

Lots of things in this movie are varied. In fact, most of the characters have more than one role. It give things a dreamlike tangibility. You'll ask yourself questions like, "Isn't that church marm the same woman who seduced Mick at the hotel?" And in this case, the answer is yes, it's the same actress. Other times, not only is it the same actress but it's the same character in a different environment.

For example, there's the animal boy from the institute. Mick meets him when he has the head of a man and the body of an animal. Later on, Mick sees the same face again. Is it the animal boy or is the actor being reused? Based on Mick's look, it's the animal boy restored.

Ralph Richardson plays the role of Monty who gives Mick a garish gold suit early. Later, Ralph Richardson is the wealthy and ruthless Sir James Burgess who lets Mick take the fall for illegal gold transactions.

Many times, the same actor or actress plays the same empirical character but with a what-if twist. It's the same character who develops down a diffent path as a result of life decisions being forced upon them or intentionally made.

Take Rachel Roberts. As Montes, she's a competent but sexually deprived woman who seduces Michael. As Paillard, she's regal and the lover of a foreign president. As Mrs. Richards, she's got her house under control but has children she can't care for. In all instances, she's got what she knows about under control but her role as a physical partner is varied with mixed results.

For some reason, the same two men are the police regardless of location. I wonder if that means that some people are born to be cops regardless of social background.

The first time that I saw this movie, it made me want to read Candide and there are some comparisons. But after reading Candide, I've concluded that O Lucky Man! is not an update of Voltaire. It may have its initial roots in the novel, but then it goes off on its own. Mick's inability to learn is the link between this movie and the novel.

The movie is long and is definitely dated. The settings, the music, the clothes, and the social fears are all from the 70s. It is original, though. So, if you have a few hours to kill and are curious about an unevenly paced adventure into the potentialities of every day surreality, then check it out.

There are bits of nudity along with some blasphemy and profanity. It has little chick flick potential. Most women will not get the movie because it is focused on Mick's point of view. Many guys will not get the movie because it appears so fanciful. In other words, this movie is not for everyone but it might be for you.

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