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O Lucky Man!

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O Lucky Man!
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLindsay Anderson
Screenplay byDavid Sherwin
Story byMalcolm McDowell
Produced byLindsay Anderson
Michael Medwin
StarringMalcolm McDowell
Ralph Richardson
Rachel Roberts
Arthur Lowe
Helen Mirren
Dandy Nichols
Mona Washbourne
CinematographyMiroslav Ondříček
Edited byDavid Gladwell
Music byAlan Price
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • 20 June 1973 (1973-06-20)
Running time
184 minutes[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom

O Lucky Man! is a 1973 British comedy-drama fantasy film directed by Lindsay Anderson and starring Malcolm McDowell as Mick Travis, whom McDowell had first played as a disaffected public schoolboy in his first film performance in Anderson's if.... (1968). The film was entered into the 1973 Cannes Film Festival.[2] O Lucky Man! is the second film in the "Mick Travis trilogy", all starring Malcolm McDowell as everyman character Mick Travis, concluding with Britannia Hospital (1982).


The narration opens with a short story outside the main plot. A grainy, black-and-white and silent title appears as "Once Upon a Time", presenting a land filled with peasant laborers of an unnamed country. They pick coffee beans while armed foremen push rudely between them. One worker (McDowell with black hair and a mustache) pockets a few beans for himself ("Coffee for the Breakfast Table") but is discovered by a foreman. He is next seen before a fat Caucasian magistrate who slobbers as he removes his cigar only to say "Guilty." The foreman draws his machete and lays it across the unfortunate laborer's wrists, bound to a wooden block, revealing that he is to lose his hands for the theft of a few beans. The machete rises and falls, and the laborer draws back in a silent scream. The scene blacks out and the title "NOW" appears onscreen and expands quickly to fill it.

During his life journey, Michael Arnold "Mick" Travis slowly learns the lesson (reinforced by numerous songs in the soundtrack by Alan Price), that he must abandon his principles in order to superficially succeed in life. Nevertheless, unlike the other characters he meets in his path, he must retain a detached idealism that will allow him to distance himself from the evils of the world. Initially, Travis is motivated only by money and material wealth. He progresses from a coffee salesman (working for Imperial Coffee in the North East of England and Scotland) to a victim of torture in a government installation and a medical research subject, under the supervision of Dr. Millar.

In parallel with Travis's experiences, the narration shows 1960s Britain slowly retreating from its imperial past, but managing to retain some influence in the world by means of corrupt dealings with foreign dictators of the countries who had recently fought for their independence. After finding out his girlfriend Patricia is the daughter of Sir James Burgess, an evil industrialist, Travis is appointed Burgess' personal assistant. Allied with Dr. Munda, the dictator of Zingara (a fictional African country) who has created a brutal police state that nevertheless manages to be a playground for wealthy people from the developed world, Burgess sells the regime a chemical called "PL45 'Honey'", which the dictator sprays on rebel areas (which effects resemble those of napalm). When the public outcry reaches the international level, Burgess connives at having Travis found guilty of fraud, and the latter is imprisoned for five years.

Five years later Travis has finished his sentence, become a model prisoner, and converted to humanism. He is quickly faced with a bewildering series of assaults upon his new-found idealism. While stopping at a slum in London's outskirts he finds out that Patricia and her wealthy husband —whom Patricia married for financial stability while cheating him with Travis— have lost all of their money and are living in extreme poverty. Travis' misadventures culminate in him being attacked by down-and-outs he had been trying to help.

Becoming despondent and after some time wandering the streets, the now destitute Travis inadvertently becomes involved in a casting call for a film production (with Lindsay Anderson himself playing the director of the film). He is given various props to handle, including a stack of schoolbooks and a machine gun (both reminiscent of Mick Travis' first chapter in the trilogy, if....). The director believes he has found the protagonist for his new film in Travis, but when asked to smile for his screen test Travis, failing to understand what is being asked of him, is befuddled, and repeatedly asks why he should smile since he feels he has no reason to do so. Suddenly, the director slaps Travis with his script book, and Travis, having an epiphany, slowly begins to smile. After a cut to black (a device used throughout the film) it is implied that Travis has become a successful actor and wealthy celebrity. He is then shown dancing at a raucous party, which includes all of the film's cast celebrating.


Many of the actors play several roles.


The film originally began as a script written by McDowell about his experiences as a coffee salesman in his late teens and early 20s. Anderson was unhappy with this treatment, and David Sherwin worked on the script. Sherwin though was undergoing personal problems at the time, which necessitated Anderson writing a few scenes himself, a skill he did not feel he had. Anderson found working with Czech cinematographer Miroslav Ondříček much less rewarding than he had on if..... He also doubted his own skills as a director during the film's making, and felt that the film had insufficient preparation. The role of Patricia was recast during production. Originally, Fiona Lewis, best known for appearing in several horror films around this time, played the role.[3]

Britannia Hospital (1982) completes the trilogy of films featuring Mick Travis,[4] which also sees the return of Dr. Millar.


Professional ratings
Review scores
Christgau's Record GuideB−[5]

Alan Price said Lindsay Anderson wanted to make a documentary about Price and his band touring England, but the cost of licensing songs they performed was too high. As Sherwin and McDowell developed the script, Anderson decided Price should write the score and sent him the script, indicating where he would like songs to appear. Price wrote nearly all the songs before filming started.[6] Anderson conceived of Price's role as a kind of Greek Chorus, both commenting on and finally appearing as part of the action.

The soundtrack was released as a vinyl album, by Warner Bros. Records, in 1973.[7] In the U.S., it entered the Top LPs & Tape chart on 11 August 1973, and spent 14 weeks on the chart, peaking at no. 117.[8]

The score won the 1974 BAFTA Award for Best Film Music.[9]

Reviewing for Creem in 1973, Robert Christgau said, "How does an acerbic, good-humored music journeyman like Price (find: This Price is Right, on Parrot) fall in with a pompous, overfed con man like Lindsay Anderson? By playing the Acerbic, Good-Humoured Music Journeyman Symbol in a pompous, overfed movie. Two or three deft political songs do not redeem an LP that runs under 25 minutes despite filler. It figures—the movie is an hour (or three hours) too long."[10]

Track listing[edit]

  1. "O Lucky Man!"
  2. "Poor People"
  3. "Sell Sell"
  4. "Pastoral"
  5. "Arrival"
  6. "Look Over Your Shoulder"
  7. "Justice"
  8. "My Home Town"
  9. "Changes"
  10. "O Lucky Man!"

The Song O Lucky Man has lyrics that mirror the fable from the Pasolini's film Uccellacci e uccellini – The Hawk and the Sparrows. “Takers and fakers and talkers won’t tell you. Teachers and preachers will just buy and sell you. When no one can tempt you with heaven or hell- You’ll be a lucky man!” says the bird.

The song "Changes" (based on the tune to "What a Friend We Have in Jesus") was later a chart hit for Price in April 1988 when it was used in a television advertisement of the same name for Volkswagen Golf cars in 1987, starring model Paula Hamilton. The song "Sell Sell" was recorded by Widespread Panic for their twelfth studio album Street Dogs and has been performed by the band on several occasions beginning on 19 February 2012 in Aspen, Colorado for the final night of their Wood Tour.[11]


Chart (1973/74) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[12] 34
United States (Billboard 200) 117


On Rotten Tomatoes 80% of reviews from 20 critics reviews were positive with an average rating of 7.7 out of 10.[13]

Vincent Canby of The New York Times rated it 2 out of 4 and wrote: "Staying with it through its almost three-hour running time becomes increasingly nerve-racking, like watching superimposed images that never synchronize. The result does not match the ambition of the intention. The wit is too small, too perfunctory, for the grand plan of the film and the quality of the production itself."[14]

Versions and home media[edit]

A number of different edits exist, with some American prints removing around twenty minutes including the working class parody suicide, just before the conclusion of the film. Even both British VHS releases delete at least one scene present in the BBC broadcast of the film (Travis testing his status in the home of his industrialist patron) in the early eighties.[15] The original editor's cut was 183 minutes, but the distributor demanded a shorter version. The cinema release was 168 minutes, achieved by accidentally missing "roll 16" during an editing session.[15]

A 2-disc special edition Region 1 DVD, including commentary by Malcolm McDowell, David Sherwin and Alan Price, and the feature-length documentary O Lucky Malcolm!, was released 30 October 2007.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "O LUCKY MAN (X)". British Board of Film Classification. 25 April 1973. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  2. ^ "Festival de Cannes: O Lucky Man!". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 19 April 2009.
  3. ^ The preceding paragraph is drawn from Paul Sutton (ed) Lindsay Anderson: The Diaries, 2004, London: Methuen, p256-306
  4. ^ "allmovie.com O Lucky Man! overview". Retrieved 9 February 2007.
  5. ^ Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: P". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved 10 March 2019 – via robertchristgau.com.
  6. ^ Price, Alan (score) (30 October 2007). O Lucky Man! (DVD audio commentary track). Burbank, CA: Warner Bros.
  7. ^ "Alan Price – O Lucky Man! – The Original Soundtrack". Discogs. 1973. Retrieved 24 April 2017.
  8. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1996). Top Pop Albums 1955-1996. Record Research Inc. p. 623. ISBN 0-89820-117-9.
  9. ^ "1974 Film Anthony Asquith Memorial Award | BAFTA Awards".
  10. ^ Christgau, Robert (November 1973). "The Christgau Consumer Guide". Creem. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  11. ^ "Everyday Companion Online – Sell Sell". everydaycompanion.com. Retrieved 24 April 2017.
  12. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 238. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  13. ^ "O Lucky Man". Rotten Tomatoes.
  14. ^ Vincent Canby (14 June 1973). ""O Lucky Man! :English Comedy Tells of a Classic Innocent,"". The New York Times.
  15. ^ a b "O LUCKY MAN!". rjbuffalo.com. Retrieved 28 January 2023.

External links[edit]