Film Diary: O Lucky Man! (Lindsay Anderson, 1973)

Sunday, 26 October 2008

o-lucky-man-1

In which Malcolm McDowell reprises the role of Mick Travis, the unlikely revolutionary schoolboy of if…

It’s four years later and Travis is now a trainee coffee salesman with the knack of always landing on his feet. Presumably this natural jamminess is the reason why he is not banged up for mass murder, but all is not what it seems, as we shall see. So, we follow our hero through a series of increasingly surreal picaresque adventures and mishaps from which Travis, however he may be humiliated or tortured, invariably emerges better off than he was before. Until, eventually, he pushes his luck once too often and ends up in prison. But then, as Ralph Richardson remarks at one point, the gap between the House of Lords and Pentonville Prison is very small indeed.

It might easily have been from an original idea by Fielding or Smollet. I believe that the true inspiration was Voltaire’s Candide, and that fits for it is a powerful political satire of its time and one which – thinking of Osborne and Mandelson on the yacht – is just as applicable today even if it dates from the days of Tiny Rowland’s Lonrho and the unacceptable face of capitalism. It’s also hard not to see a parallel with Evelyn Waugh. Travis’s decline and fall is not at all unlike that of Paul Pennyfeather.

This is a big film – over three hours long – and it’s baggy and sprawling, but it’s never dull. Its scale only serves to underline the monstrosity of the corruption and exploitation that it satirizes. There’s also a fabulous soundtrack by Alan Price to hold the attention. Price and his ensemble appear initially as a kind of Greek chorus, stopping the flow to give a detached musical commentary. In a typically surreal touch though, Price and his band become an integral part of the action. (And if that weren’t enough, we find in the closing scenes Lindsay Anderson auditioniong Mick Travis for the lead role in his film if… and at this point we’ve left the realms of Voltaire and Waugh and plunged into the bizarre world of Flann O’Brien.

It’s all quite bonkers, of course, and quite magnificent. A wonderful film.

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