O Lucky Man! (1973)

R | 165-166, 176 or 186 mins | Black comedy, Experimental | June 1973

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HISTORY

The film begins with a card reading “Once upon a time,” followed by a fabricated silent film depicting a South American laborer being sadistically punished for stealing coffee beans. When the silent film ends, Alan Price appears singing the title song, after which the opening credits roll. The title credit, which appears after most of the crew credits, reads “ O Lucky Man! was based on an original idea by Malcolm McDowell.” The film ends with footage of the entire cast and crew, plus some extras, dancing among balloons as if at a wrap party. The final shot is an iris freeze-frame of McDowell.
       Although some sources credit actress Kymoke Debayo as “Mrs. Naidu,” the character was played by Pearl Nunez, who is credited onscreen. Onscreen the production company credit reads Memorial Enterprises-SAM, an amalgam of the two separate companies, Albert Finney and producer Michael Medwin’s Memorial Enterprises and writer David Sherwin, director Lindsay Anderson and McDowell’s SAM Productions, Ltd.
       The film has an episodic structure, with scenes frequently punctuated by a brief all-black screen. The sections of the film are separated by titles announcing West, North, South and East End, with each geographical area characterized by a different social class. Anderson interspersed experimental techniques throughout the picture, including silent film footage, documentary footage inserted into fictional scenes, the use of typed titles and Price’s songs, which serve as commentary on the action. Scenes are interspersed with footage of Price, who wrote all of the songs used in the film, and his band performing the songs in a rehearsal space or onstage. Price and the band also appear as musicians in the fictional world of the film. Price ... More Less

The film begins with a card reading “Once upon a time,” followed by a fabricated silent film depicting a South American laborer being sadistically punished for stealing coffee beans. When the silent film ends, Alan Price appears singing the title song, after which the opening credits roll. The title credit, which appears after most of the crew credits, reads “ O Lucky Man! was based on an original idea by Malcolm McDowell.” The film ends with footage of the entire cast and crew, plus some extras, dancing among balloons as if at a wrap party. The final shot is an iris freeze-frame of McDowell.
       Although some sources credit actress Kymoke Debayo as “Mrs. Naidu,” the character was played by Pearl Nunez, who is credited onscreen. Onscreen the production company credit reads Memorial Enterprises-SAM, an amalgam of the two separate companies, Albert Finney and producer Michael Medwin’s Memorial Enterprises and writer David Sherwin, director Lindsay Anderson and McDowell’s SAM Productions, Ltd.
       The film has an episodic structure, with scenes frequently punctuated by a brief all-black screen. The sections of the film are separated by titles announcing West, North, South and East End, with each geographical area characterized by a different social class. Anderson interspersed experimental techniques throughout the picture, including silent film footage, documentary footage inserted into fictional scenes, the use of typed titles and Price’s songs, which serve as commentary on the action. Scenes are interspersed with footage of Price, who wrote all of the songs used in the film, and his band performing the songs in a rehearsal space or onstage. Price and the band also appear as musicians in the fictional world of the film. Price was the arranger and keyboardist for the famed British rock group The Animals and went on to a distinguished solo career. In addition, radio and news updates of national disasters and crimes are heard and seen throughout the action.
       In another experimental aspect, each of the featured actors plays several roles. McDowell’s only secondary character is that of the plantation thief in the film’s opening silent movie, and Helen Mirren’s only secondary character is that of the assistant at the casting call. As noted in the HR review, the multiple roles were used partially to reinforce the idea, spelled out in the Price song “Changes,” that everyone plays multiple roles in his or her life. [The lyrics to that song appear onscreen, typed out in several languages.] Medwin plays two characters in the film and Anderson appears in the music sequences and in the final scene as himself. Associate producer Basil Keys’s name is used as the character who facilitates the British funding of chemical warfare against rebels in the fictional country of “Zingara.” Arthur Lowe, who plays “Mr. Duff” and “Charlie Johnson,” also appears, in blackface, as African president “Dr. Munda.” During the prison sequence, a photograph of director John Ford hangs on the wall.
       The meaning of the final scene, in which “Lindsay Anderson” slaps “Mick Travis” across the face and Mick slowly smiles, was widely interpreted by critics and viewers. While some saw it as Mick’s final surrender to hypocrisy, others felt it signaled optimism. Anderson gave his interpretation in an Apr 1973 The Times (London) interview, asserting that when Mick is slapped, he “experiences, in traditional Zen terms, his moment of illumination…. that moment has suddenly brought to him the awareness of the correct way of relating to his experience.” Although McDowell stated in a May 1973 Films Illustrated interview that the casting session portrayed in that sequence was for the film If… , the clapboard seen in the scene reads O Lucky Man!
       Anderson (1923--1994) was a film critic and theater director as well as a filmmaker. His first production, entitled “Thursday’s Child,” won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short in 1954. Although he made only seven feature films, he is considered one of the most important British directors of his day, part of the British New Wave of filmmakers making gritty, working-class pictures. Anderson and McDowell first worked together on the 1969 film If.… (see above), in which McDowell played “Mick Travis,” considered to be his breakout role. They also worked together in O Lucky Man! and 1982’s Britannia Hospital , which both feature McDowell portraying a character named Mick Travis. The three films also share several cast and crew members (including writer David Sherwin) and are referred to by some historians as a trilogy, even though Anderson stated repeatedly in interviews that the films were not specifically connected. In addition, McDowell co-starred in Anderson’s film Look Back in Anger (1980).
       O Lucky Man! originated as an idea of McDowell, who began his career as a coffee salesman, much as Mick does in the film. McDowell stated in an Aug 1973 Rolling Stone interview that he began the treatment for the semi-autobiographical film, then entitled The Coffee Man , around 1965. As noted in a Sight and Sound review of O Lucky Man! ’s 2008 DVD release, McDowell approached Anderson with his idea after If…. won the Grand Prix at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival. Anderson stated in an Apr 1973 The Times (London) interview that he suggested that Sherwin write the screenplay, and after the story was completed, hired Price to write the songs, suggesting the general point of each tune.
       Although a Nov 1971 Var news item reported that Universal planned to finance and distribute O Lucky Man! , “as part of U’s desire to jack up cross-Atlantic production,” the studio had no involvement with the film. HR announced in Jan 1972 that Warner Bros. would shoot the film entirely in England as a British production. Studio production notes reported locations in England and Scotland, including in London, Buckinghamshire, Kent, Yorkshire and a Glasgow prison. Anderson stated in a Jun 1973 LAT article that the film cost under $4 million.
       As noted in Filmfacts , O Lucky Man! had a running time of 186 minutes when it was screened at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival and released in London, but Warner Bros. asked Anderson to shorten the film for its American release. He then edited out the scenes involving the Salvation Army, “Mrs. Richards’” suicide and Mick’s subsequent harassment by a policeman. The latter scene included the Alan Price song “My Home Town.” A Jun 1973 DV article reported that, after screening both versions of the film at public previews in New York and noting viewer reactions, Anderson accepted the edited version, which had nine minutes of footage removed. Warner Bros. then sent a letter to New York film critics detailing the cuts. According to the Rolling Stone article, Warner Bros. had a “production clause” requiring that the film receive an R rating before release.
       Although Filmfacts and the NYT review list American version at 166 minutes, most other American reviews list the running time as 176 minutes. McDowell stated in a May 1973 Films Illustrated interview that O Lucky Man! was set to have its U.S. premiere at the American Film Institute’s inaugural series at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. but Anderson pulled the film out of the schedule after AFI withdrew the Costa-Gavras film State of Siege (see above) because of that film’s political nature.
       O Lucky Man! engendered heated opinions from critics, which ranged from “a watershed film” ( Var ) to “a mess of pretentiousness” ( The New Republic ). Most reviewers compared Mick’s character to that of Voltaire’s “Candide.” Price’s score was highly lauded, as was McDowell’s performance. The film won BAFTA Awards for Film Music (Price) and Best Supporting Actor (Arthur Lowe), as well as receiving nominations for the Golden Palm award at the Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Globe for Best Original Score. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
11 Jun 1973.
---
Daily Variety
22 Mar 1972.
---
Daily Variety
3 Apr 1973.
---
Daily Variety
8 Jun 1973.
---
Filmfacts
1973
pp. 109--15.
Films Illustrated
May 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Jan 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
31 Mar 1972
p. 19.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Aug 1972
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
29 May 1973
p. 3, 5.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
29 Jun 1973.
---
Los Angeles Times
24 Jun 1973
Calendar, p. 1, 22.
New York
11 Jun 1973.
---
New York Times
14 Jun 1973
p. 58.
New Yorker
16 Jun 1973.
---
Newsweek
25 Jun 1973
p. 55.
Rolling Stone
2 Aug 1973.
---
Sight and Sound
Jan 2008.
---
The Independent (London)
21 May 2008.
---
The Times (London)
21 Apr 1973.
---
The Times (London)
6 May 1973.
---
Time
18 Jun 1973
p. 58.
Time
23 Jul 1973.
---
Variety
29 Nov 1971.
---
Variety
18 Apr 1973
p. 30.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Also appearing:
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITERS
Based on an orig idea by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Gaffer
Electricals
Processing
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Assoc art dir
FILM EDITORS
Supv ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Const
Prop master
Buyer
Graphics
COSTUMES
MUSIC
SOUND
Sd ed
Dubbing mixer
Sd re-rec
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Hairdresser
Makeup
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Casting
Asst to dir
Unit pub
SOURCES
SONGS
"O Lucky Man," "Poor People," "Sell Sell," "Look Over Your Shoulder," "Justice," "My Home Town" and "Changes," words and music by Alan Price, sung by Alan Price.
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Coffee Man
Release Date:
June 1973
Premiere Information:
London opening: week of 25 March 1973
Cannes Film Festival screening: May 1973
New York opening: 13 June 1973
Los Angeles opening: 27 June 1973
Production Date:
20 March--mid August 1972 in England and Scotland
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Brothers, Inc.
Copyright Date:
3 May 1973
Copyright Number:
LP43789
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Eastman Color
Lenses/Prints
High speed lenses by Panavision
Duration(in mins):
165-166, 176 or 186
MPAA Rating:
R
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
23542
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

At the Imperial Coffee Factory in England, naïve Michael Arnold “Mick” Travis trains to be a traveling salesman. After attracting the interest of public relations chief Gloria, Mick is soon awarded the plum assignment of the entire northern territory recently abandoned by a former top salesman with shady connections. Mick makes love to an enthusiastic Gloria then sets off for the Sutherland House Private Hotel, eager to make his mark on the world and earn lots of money. Along the way, Mick witnesses a car accident that causes the death of both drivers, but when he tries to make a statement, the policemen, who hope to avoid paperwork and loot the crashed truck’s goods, insist that he leave quietly. Arriving at the hotel, Mick is met by lusty proprietress Mary Ball, who soon beds him. When Mick starts work, he throws himself into the job, despite the realities of local factories closed and high unemployment. At one hotel, the manager, who is also the town mayor, invites him to a private party. Mick is shocked but pleased to find himself in a secret nightclub featuring pornographic movies and staged sex acts, attended by all the area leaders and dozens of prostitutes. Later that night, however, Gloria calls to inform him that he must immediately take over the Scotland territory, and although he is loath to leave, he gratefully accepts a warm suit of gold lamé presented by lodger and tailor Charlie Johnson. On his way to Scotland, Mick gets lost and stumbles upon a secret government atomic installation. When he is spotted, he is mistaken for a Communist spy and dragged to an interrogation room. Mick sneaks out an ... +


At the Imperial Coffee Factory in England, naïve Michael Arnold “Mick” Travis trains to be a traveling salesman. After attracting the interest of public relations chief Gloria, Mick is soon awarded the plum assignment of the entire northern territory recently abandoned by a former top salesman with shady connections. Mick makes love to an enthusiastic Gloria then sets off for the Sutherland House Private Hotel, eager to make his mark on the world and earn lots of money. Along the way, Mick witnesses a car accident that causes the death of both drivers, but when he tries to make a statement, the policemen, who hope to avoid paperwork and loot the crashed truck’s goods, insist that he leave quietly. Arriving at the hotel, Mick is met by lusty proprietress Mary Ball, who soon beds him. When Mick starts work, he throws himself into the job, despite the realities of local factories closed and high unemployment. At one hotel, the manager, who is also the town mayor, invites him to a private party. Mick is shocked but pleased to find himself in a secret nightclub featuring pornographic movies and staged sex acts, attended by all the area leaders and dozens of prostitutes. Later that night, however, Gloria calls to inform him that he must immediately take over the Scotland territory, and although he is loath to leave, he gratefully accepts a warm suit of gold lamé presented by lodger and tailor Charlie Johnson. On his way to Scotland, Mick gets lost and stumbles upon a secret government atomic installation. When he is spotted, he is mistaken for a Communist spy and dragged to an interrogation room. Mick sneaks out an unlocked door, but while witnessing an experiment, is brought back to the interrogation room, where two men dispassionately torture him with electric shocks. Anxious to halt the torture, Mick signs a confession, feeds the men lies about his Russian background, and is saved only when an alarm sounds. The men flee the room, leaving Mick tied up, until a pitying maid unties him, and he is able to race out of the building with all of the fleeing personnel. Mick runs into the surrounding hills, climbing up as explosions destroy the building. His car explodes just as he reaches it, so he grabs his gold suit and wanders the countryside in a daze. Spotting a church, he stumbles into the service and collapses in a pew. Hours later, he awakens in the empty church and attempts to eat the vegetables left as décor. The vicar’s wife scolds him for eating God’s food, then tenderly breastfeeds him. Later, her children lead him out to the motorway through a pasture, and Mick hitches a ride to London with man offering one hundred pounds if he is willing to be a medical research subject. Thrilled with the pay, Mick visits the Millar Research Clinic, where leading scientist Prof. Millar subjects Mick to a series of examinations. Finally, Millar explains that Mick can help in his quest to expand the human lifespan. When given a release to sign allowing Millar all rights to experiment on his body, Mick insists on £150, then cheerfully signs. That night, however, he overhears Millar discussing sterilization and sneaks out. Hiding in the room of a fellow experimentation subject, Mick asks how much compensation he is receiving, and when the man merely whimpers in response, Mick pulls off his bedcovers and finds that the man’s head has been spliced onto the body of a goat. Screaming in horror, Mick jumps through a window to the ground outside and, chased by guards, flees on a stolen bike. On the street, Mick is picked up by a van in which Alan Price and his band are traveling home. Also in the backseat is Patricia, a lovely groupie who strips Mick of his clothes and makes love to him. The next day, Mick awakens in the band members’ London house and finds Patricia on the roof. When he admires the city’s tallest skyscraper, she admits that her father, Sir James, owns it. Although Patricia warns him that Sir James is a ruthless, evil man, Mick is ecstatic to have a connection to the billionaire, and so arranges a meeting at his office. There, Mick informs Sir James that Patricia is in trouble but can be saved with his help. Sir James is entirely unmoved, but just then, a crazed employee races into the room and leaps out the window, taking with him Sir James’s assistant. The magnate calls in his senior staff and fashions an instantaneous eulogy, then hires Mick as his new assistant. Mick accompanies Sir James to an appointment with Dr. Munda, the president of the African nation of Zingara. Munda and his employees mount a presentation about the investment and tourism potential in their country, which is run via native slaves who are paid pennies and housed in labor camps. A colonel notes that there is a problem with rebel forces that can be suppressed with the use of “honey,” his name for a deadly chemical compound that ravages its targets. After seeing color footage of the results of the compound, a pleased Sir James agrees to finance the honey and sends Mick to meet with government liaison Basil Keyes the next day. Keyes supplies Mick with a letter of introduction, allowing Mick to supervise the transport of 12,000 gallons of honey. That night, Sir James invites Keyes, Munda and his cohorts to dinner, where Mick signs the financing contract as a witness. Sir James then asks him to fetch a suitcase full of gold from his study, where Mick finds Patricia and her aristocratic lover, the Duke of Belminster. Mick proclaims his love to Patricia, who denounces him as conventional, so he returns to the dinner table. Just then, Inspector Kearney enters on a tip from a military flight coordinator, and interrogates Mick. As Sir James has instructed Mick to hold the gold and now lies that the signatures on the contract are all forgeries except for Mick’s, Mick is arrested. Some time later, at Mick’s trial, the judge paints Sir James as England’s most prominent industrialist and Mick as a con artist attempting to extort his fortune. After returning from a brief retreat to his chambers to strip to his underwear and receive a whipping, the judge directs the jury to indict Mick, then sentences him to five years of hard labor. During his years of incarceration, Mick is fully redeemed through the penal system’s excellent course of rehabilitation, and upon leaving, is compassionately kissed by the warden, who presents him with his grandmother’s book of inspirational verses. With a small amount of money and clothing, Mick, filled with idealism, heads to London’s working-class East End. When Salvation Army workers approach him, he gives generously, prompting them to introduce him to the crowd. As he exhorts the minister that he no longer believes in sin, two men rob him of all but his book of verses. Not realizing he has been stripped of all his goods, Mick joins a nearby crowd attempting to rescue Mrs. Richards, an impoverished mother who plans to commit suicide. Mick heroically scales the outside of the building to shout into her window, begging her to reconsider, but the housewife explains calmly that she has no money, no food for her children and no more patience for life. As she kisses her children goodbye, Mick falls from the building’s pipes, and regains consciousness hours later when a policeman hassles him for trespassing. Revealing that Mrs. Richards killed herself, the policeman sends Mick away, and he wanders to a soup kitchen. When Mick offers to help, the kindly manager sends him to the homeless encampment to distribute soup. There, Mick is shocked to see Patricia, and after he helps one alcoholic who falls into the bonfire, the others descend upon him, condemning him for his “filthy charity” and ripping off his clothes. Finally, they chase him into a pit and roll a barrel over his head. Hours later, trudging dispiritedly through Picadilly Circus, Mick is handed a flyer advertising a casting session. There, he is spotted by director Lindsay Anderson, who has Mick photographed holding books and guns, then instructs him to smile. Bemused, Mick demands to know what there could be to smile about, but after Anderson slaps him with a film script, a grin slowly spreads across his face. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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