O’ Lucky Man!
O Lucky Man! – 1973 | 186 mins | Drama, Musical | Colour
Once again Malcolm McDowell plays Michael Travis, who comes face to face with an even more troubled society than in If. . . Here, he has become a conformist, caught up in rigid philosophies – either it is the petty bourgeois dreams of success or the naÔve altruism of existential humanism. Anderson himself claimed in his preface to the published manuscript that Travis was ‘an organic development from that work of five years ago’.
When the factory manager Mr Duff (Arthur Lowe) addresses Mick, ‘Certainly, Mr Travers, Mick corrects him, emphasising ‘Travis’ Travis’ is, of course, partly derived from travers, French for ‘from one side to the other, or traverser, meaning ‘travel’; Mick’s journey across Britain apparently leads him everywhere and nowhere. The journey starts at the coffee factory, where Mick is a trainee and, because of his charm, is chosen as the successor to the mysterious Oswald, who has disappeared. Oswald is in Hitchcockian terms a ‘MacGuffin’, the device that triggers the narrative. Oswald is referred to, but his fate never explained. Maybe he is the man (Edward Judd) whom Mick encounters along with Sir James and the VIPs at the meeting with the African dictator Dr Munda (Arthur Lowe). Mick is fed before he leaves on his mission to be the representative of Imperial Coffee in the north. Gloria Rowe (Rachel Roberts) gives him coffee from her mouth, before seducing him, and the chairman (Peter Jeffrey) gives him an apple, the symbol of knowledge, a knowledge that proves disastrous for Mick.
Sexuality is also presented as a language of power. The women who feed Mick, Gloria Rowe, his landlady Mary Ball, (Mary MacLeod), Patricia and even almost Madame Paillard, Dr Munda’s mistress (Rachel Roberts) – all try to consume him and thus reduce him to a puppet. In the church sequence, where Mick cannot touch God’s food, but instead is breastfed by the vicar’s wife (Mary MacLeod). In this scene, charged with absurdly sexual overtones, Mick eats and is ‘eaten’ by the devastating ideology of the Mother Church. The most bizarre aspect of sexuality in O Lucky Man! appears in the trial against Travis, who has been turned into a scapegoat for Sir James’s criminal dealings, exporting ‘honey to the Zingarans’ in return for industrial investment opportunities, with keen assistance from politicians and the military. When the jury convenes, the judge (Anthony Nicholls) takes a break, goes into his office, takes off his red robe, lies down on the table while the female usher (Mona Washbourne) promptly whips him on the behind with a black leather lash. The severe punishment Mick receives, five years’ hard labour, is the result of the judge’s sado-masochism, his inclination to receive and deliver punishment.
On his journey north, Mick is driven away, typically bribed with a cheese, by two policemen determined to plunder a wrecked lorry. Later, Mick is tortured with electrodes by security police at the nuclear research laboratory and when he is arrested at Sir James’s house, the officers beat him up. These symptomatically charged attacks on contemporary British society reach their climax when Travis attends an orgy, where the chief of police, the mayor, the newspaper editor and other local VIPs drink, watch porn, a live show and also solicit prostitutes. Mick, who does not appreciate the social chaos surrounding him, believes himself to be chosen and readily accepts the golden suit that the old tailor Monty (Ralph Richardson) offers him in Mary Ball’s boarding house. The golden suit sets Mick on the track for yet more illusions, until Patricia reminds him that it is only ‘nylon’. Patricia is only one of the many characters – Monty, the vicar’s wife, the prison governor and the welfare lady (Vivian Pickles) – who try to warn Mick about his quest for money and power. Mick’s social success seems assured when he is hired as an assistant to Patricia’s father Sir James (the former assistant dies while trying to save mad Professor Stewart (Graham Crowden) from committing suicide by jumping out of the skyscraper window).
In prison Mick leaves capitalism behind him and instead turns to another philosophical system: altruism, illustrated by his having images of Albert Schweitzer, Maxim Gorky and Bertrand Russell on his walls and books such as Gorky’s The Lower Depths and Russell’s The History of Western Philosophy on his shelf. This lifestyle, however, fares as badly when he leaves prison, armed to the teeth with a book of poetry he has been given by the governor. He is robbed while preaching politics to East End Salvation Army soldiers, and he is unsuccessful in trying to save Mrs Richards from committing suicide in spite of mobilising Robert Browning, Adam Lindsay Gordon and Shakespeare. A final humiliation is the near fatal confrontation with the derelicts, paupers and meths drinkers. Here he gets stoned and is nearly killed by a rolling oil drum. This scene actually became one of the most vividly discussed in 0 Lucky Man! Corrupt politicians and crooked businessmen were legitimate targets for satire. Literature, philosophy, paupers and charity were more controversial. Anderson had foreseen these objections, particularly from his old colleagues within the political left.
Lindsay Anderson: Director
Miroslav Ondr√≠cek: Cinematography
Elsa Fennell: Costume Design
David Gladwell: Editing
Alan Price: Music
David Sherwin: Producer
Michael Medwin: Producer
Malcolm McDowell: Producer
Lindsay Anderson: Producer
Jocelyn Herbert: Production Designer
David Sherwin: Script
Malcolm McDowell: Mick Travis
Ralph Richardson: Monty/Sir James Burgess
Rachel Roberts: Gloria Rowe/Mme Paillard/Mrs Richards
Arthur Lowe: Mr Duff/Charlie Johnson/Dr Munda
Helen Mirren: Patricia
Graham Crowden: Stewart/Millar/Meths Drinker
Peter Jeffrey: Factory Chairman/Prison Governor
Dandy Nichols: Tea Lady/Neighbor
Mona Washbourne: Sister Hallet/Usher/Neighbor
Philip Stone: Interrogator/Jenkins/Salvation Army Major
Mary MacLeod: Mary Ball/Vicar\’s Wife
Michael Bangerter: Interogator/William
Wallace Eaton: Stone/Steiger/Executive/Warder
Warren Clarke: MC/Warner/Male Nurse
Bill Owen: Barlow/Superintendent
Michael Medwin: Captain/Dickie Belminster