Forty years after it was made, viewers are still split over Lindsay Anderson's 1973 picaresque O Lucky Man!, the second of three films the British satirist made with Malcolm McDowell, who'd already garnered recognition for handling a difficult role as the sociopathic hooligan Alex in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. That division alone kicks O Lucky Man into cultish territory, because either you get it or you don't -- and even if you do get it, most fans agree that it's a tad too long.
The story of Mick Travis, a young man movie-goers first met in If..., Anderson's 1968 tale of a violent student revolution at a repressive boarding school, O Lucky Man follows the protagonist as he climbs up through a series of outrageous career adventures that change his character indelibly.
Those who don't like this movie often call it "weird," and it is (Travis segues from coffee salesman to the subject of a Mengele-style "medical experiment" to the scapegoat in a corporate chemical-weapon-running scheme). But Anderson interweaves a wicked streak of anti-capitalist spew into the plot that keeps it sharp...if you're paying attention.
Best of all, there's a running musical commentary provided by British songster Alan Price that's wittily delivered in live segments of Price and his band interspersed throughout (the soundtrack album is worth a listen, if you like what you hear). It's Mick's chorus, you might say, and the music helps to blur the boundaries between real and totally surreal worlds explored in O Lucky Man!
There are other quirks -- actors playing multiple roles and a late appearance by Anderson, essentially playing himself -- but also a fine cast, including a young, nubile Helen Mirren as Mick's groupie girlfriend and Ralph Richardson as her father, the crooked industrialist who eventually betrays Mick, resulting in his imprisonment.
It's a lot to swallow in one sitting, but you could say O Lucky Man! starts with a smile and ends with a different kind of smile, and in between it's a McDowell tour-de-force. O Lucky Man! is available for download from iTunes or Amazon, or on DVD from Netflix.
Susan Froyd, in another life, toiled for a few years in some of Denver's most beloved and belated repertory cinemas. She has also seen a lot of movies over a lot of years. In this weekly series, she'll recommend forgotten films, classics, cult favorites and other dusty reels of celluloid from the past. You might like it.
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