Cast & Crew
This sprawling, surrealist musical serves as an allegory for the pitfalls of capitalism, as it follows the adventures of a young coffee salesman in Europe. Many actors play multiple roles, giving the film a stagy tone.
O Lucky Man!
As McDowell remembers it, he handed his first draft to director Lindsay Anderson, who replied, "It's not very good, is it?" and then encouraged him to continue working on it. He suggested McDowell read Candide, Pilgrim's Progress, and Kafka's Amerika and pushed him to make it bigger and more outrageous. When McDowell was in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971), he handed the work in progress to David Sherwin, the screenwriter of If.... Sherwin added even more incidents to the series of adventures and mishaps, many of them taken from real-life events. "In essence the film, if you think about it, was documentary, exaggerated documentary of the United Kingdom in the 1970s," composer Alan Price observed in his commentary on the DVD. McDowell suggested a new title: Lucky Man. "No," replied Anderson, "O Lucky Man, like O Dreamland... and it ought to have an exclamation mark."
McDowell hadn't intended that his protagonist be called Mick Travis, the name of the character he played in If..., but Anderson said he couldn't think of McDowell playing him under any other name. "As anyone who knows If... will surely recognize, this film is an organic development from that work of five years ago," Anderson wrote in 1973. "But development does not imply repetition; and if this Mick starts as considerably more naif (and more conventionally ambitious) than his character in If... he ends up considerably wiser." The script even makes a reference to the previous incarnation: "Was your headmaster correct to expel you from school?" he's asked during an interrogation. The character returned a decade later in Britannia Hospital (1982) and the three films became known as the "Mick Travis Trilogy."
O Lucky Man! was an enormous project: a film that eventually ran three hours, shot in locations from London to the North of England to Scotland, on a tight budget of $1.5 million. Anderson reunited much of his crew from If... for support, including cinematographer Miroslav Ondrícek (he had to apply to Czech authorities to let him travel to England), editor David Gladwell, and production designer Jocelyn Herbert, and began with a script that Sherwin had not yet completed. McDowell and Anderson worked together during production to complete scenes that Sherwin had only sketched out.
Anderson had collaborated with musician and composer Alan Price, the original keyboard player for The Animals before he left for a solo career, on the play Home, and approached Price with the idea of writing songs as commentary on key points in the film. He gave Price the screenplay and discussed his ideas and Price recorded all but one of the songs before the film was shot. "Alan's songs--they're the one thing that will save this film," Anderson told Sherwin after hearing the first recordings. He decided to add scenes of the band performing the songs in the studio (Price and the musicians mimed to the playback for these scenes) and even cast Price in the film as basically himself, a musician on the road who gives Mick a ride to London in his tour van.
Anderson also came up with the idea of having actors play multiple roles in the film. "Each of our characters might have been somebody else, if his luck had been different," he explained. Ralph Richardson, who Anderson had directed on the stage in Home, was cast as both a genial tailor in a provincial rooming house (he makes the "lucky suit" that Travis wears) and a ruthless industrialist, and Rachel Roberts (star of Anderson's feature debut This Sporting Life, 1963) and Warren Clarke (McDowell's costar in A Clockwork Orange) play three characters apiece. Almost every featured actor played two or three roles, including Helen Mirren, whose character Patricia, the flighty daughter of a millionaire, winds through Mick's journey. McDowell had lobbied for Mirren but Anderson originally cast another actress. When he decided that she wasn't right for the role after a couple of days of shooting, he finally offered it to Mirren. Even Anderson takes a role in the film, essentially playing himself in a climax that winds Mick's journey with McDowell's story.
In regards to the ending, McDowell recalls: "I kept saying to Lindsay, 'How will I finish this? How am I going to end it?' He said, 'Well, Malcolm, what happened to you?' I said, 'I don't know, I guess I became a movie star.' He said, 'Well, then that's how we'll end it.'" David Sherwin received sole screenplay credit but McDowell received his due at the end of the film when the title came up on a screen that reads: "O Lucky Man! was based on an original idea by Malcolm McDowell."
O Lucky Man!, screenplay and "Diary of a Script" by David Sherwin, introduction by Lindsay Anderson. Grove Press, 1973.
O Lucky Malcolm, documentary directed by Jan Harlan. Warner Bros., 2006.
Mainly About Lindsay Anderson, Gavin Lambert. Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.
Malcolm McDowell, Alan Price and David Sherwin commentary on O Lucky Man! DVD. Warner, 2001.
By Sean Axmaker
O Lucky Man!
The future is in your hands, Mr. Travis. Take it... now!- Mrs. Rowe
as himself, casting his film If.... (1968). He also appears in the opening and closing musical renditions of the title song, sitting in the recording studio, and embracing Malcolm McDowell in the party sequence at the end.
Meths drinkers is British slang for 'tramps' or down-and-outs (homeless people). It refers to 'methylated sprit', an industrial cleaning fluid made from methanol (liquid alcohol). Tramps used to drink it because it was cheaper than beer.
In France the title is 'The Best of all Possible Worlds' which is the refrain from Voltaire's novel, "Candide", upon which the film is very loosely based.
The name Alexander de Large (Malcolm McDowell's character in Clockwork Orange, A (1971)) can be seen on Mick's order book when he is working as a salesman.
In the prison governor's office, there is a small photograph of John Ford - the one Ford sent to Anderson while he was shooting the movie. The dedication reads: "To my colleague Lindsay Anderson with best regards from his friend of many years. Jack."
Released in United States March 1975
Released in USA on video.
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1973
Released in United States March 1975 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Science Fiction Movie Marathon - Excerpts shown) March 13-26, 1975.)
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1973