‘Realism is not a matter of showing real things, but of showing how things really are’ .
Lindsay Anderson and writer David Sherwin made a total of three films featuring a character called Mick Travis all played by Malcolm McDowell, but besides having the same name they are not strictly speaking the same character and the stories aren't sequential but there is similarities between them and have always been termed the Mick Travis trilogy. The first of the three was If…. (1968). Which as I have explained before was meant as a metaphor for British Society and a condemnation of authority but specifically an attack on the absurdities of the British public school system. The second film in this ‘trilogy’ is O Lucky Man! (1973) an allegory on life lived in a capitalist society and an attack on the British class system.
After the success of If…. McDowell wanted to work with the director again and suggested that he (McDowell) write a script based on his own early experiences as a coffee salesman. Anderson pointed out that good scripts are pretty rare and challenged the actor to come up with one, which he did! Originally called Coffee Man Anderson asked Sherwin to work up a script from Malcolm McDowell’s original ideas. These adventures of a coffee salesman became what Anderson called an epic “not in the sense of Ben-Hur but in a classical poetic sense of the term’ . It tells the story of a young man (Travis) who uses any means to get to the ‘top’. Firstly as the afore mentioned coffee salesman who gets awarded not only the prime area of North East England but of Scotland as well. There’s a beautiful comment from Mick when he is told he has to go to Scotland, he responded that he can’t possible go because he does not have any warm clothes with him! From salesman to scientific guinea pig. Then assistant to a business tycoon, who cons him into acting as his fall guy and serving a prison sentence, converted to near saintliness, almost martyred by a crown of down and outs he is trying to help and finally reaching an understanding of life by being hit around the head with the script of O Lucky Man! by the films director!
One of Lindsay brilliant theatrical touches is to cast the same actors in different roles including Helen Mirren, who had just finished Ken Russell’s Savage Messiah (1972) and went on to appear opposite McDowell in Caligula some six years later, who plays Patricia the tycoons wayward daughter and a casting call receptionist. Other well-known actors who have two or more parts are Sir Ralph Richardson, Rachel Roberts, and Graham Crowden and Christine Noonan who both appeared in If…. Mora Washbourne, Brian Glover and Arthur Lowe who ‘blacks up’ as Dr Munda the dictator of Zingara a brutal police state.
Although it may not sound like it, it is a film about the real world but one that makes its point through comedy and satire, with words and music from Alan Price reinforcing and underlining the storyline in a clever and imaginative way. It did not do that well at the box office when it was first released but its satirical brilliance has now been recognised, just re-watch it and see the relevance it has to today.