Malcolm McDowell’s second collaboration with director Lindsay Anderson, after their triumph with If…, sees McDowell as an enthusiastic new coffee salesmen sent off to make his company’s fortune in an ever widening area of the Britain. In true picaresque style, he has one strange adventure and encounter after another, each more bizarre than the last, and the whole is intercut with studio performances of Alan Price’s songs that comment on the whole enterprise.
Picaresque narratives are, by their nature, sprawling, episodic tales, and that is certainly true of O Lucky Man, which clocks in at just under three hours. They can, however, also have plots that only appear to be random, but are in fact as tight as wound watch, as is the case with Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones. This is less the case with Anderson’s film, which feels considerably more scattershot in approach. The episodes can be amusing, and McDowell is excellent throughout, but the satirical broadsides feel more obvious than pointed. Viewers will likely be divided over how they feel about the same actors (including Ralph Richardson and Helen Mirren) popping up in multiple roles, a convention rarely seen except in theatre. An interestingly messy work.
The volume of the mono soundtrack is sometimes a bit low, but it is clean, static-free and clear. The songs sound great (for mono), with a great deal of warmth and heft, and the volume certainly isn’t a problem for those sequences. Not too much else to report on this front, but the sound does what it needs to do, and doesn’t interfere with viewing enjoyment.
There is even less of a problem with the picture. The print is in terrific shape, showing no signs of wear and tear, and no grain to speak of. The image is sharp, and boasts fine colours and contrasts, and terrific blacks. The film doesn’t appear to have aged a day, and one has the sense of watching a premiere screening.
The commentary is by McDowell, Price and screenwriter David Sherwin. McDowell is the principle contributor. Over the course of three hours, there are, perhaps unavoidably, some rather lengthy silences, but there is still a wealth of material here. Better yet is O Lucky Malcolm, a feature-length profile of the actor, featuring extensive interviews as he looks back over his career. The memories of A Clockwork Orange are alone worth the price of admission. A vintage promo featurette for O Lucky Man is included also, along with the theatrical trailer. The McDowell documentary is on disc 2, along with the second half of the movie.
Something of a folly, I think, and not entirely successful, but it is also the sort of folly that can only come from unfettered filmmaking, and that is so much better than the alternative.