Mick and the Girl rolling on the café floor naked and making love was Malcolm McDowell's idea (because he wanted to see his attractive co-star, Christine Noonan, for whom he admitted having a crush, in the nude.) However, when Lindsay Anderson accepted his star's suggestion, the director required McDowell to ask Noonan if she was willing to do so. (Her reply, according to McDowell, was "I don't mind.")
Contrary to the story that says some scenes of the film are in black-and-white instead of color because the production company was running short of money and saved money by having some scenes processed in monochrome, according to interviews with Malcolm McDowell, Lindsay Anderson and the cameraman, they first shot the scenes in the school chapel in monochrome because they had to use natural light that came in through the big stained-glass window, requiring high-speed film. The high-speed color stock they tested was very grainy and the constantly-shifting color values due to the angle of the light through the stained glass made it impossible to color-correct, as well. So they decided to shoot those scenes in monochrome, and, when he saw the dailies, Anderson liked the way that it "broke up the surface of the film", and decided to insert other monochrome scenes more or less at random, to help disorient the viewer as the film slipped from realism to fantasy.
A British ambassador called the film "an insult to the nation". The then Lord John Brabourne read an early draft and called it "the most evil and perverted script I've ever read. It must never see the light of day".
Paramount hated the film when they saw it and tried to dump it from cinemas. However, one of their tentpole films, Barbarella (1968), turned out to be a spectacular flop so they needed to replace it in cinemas with something else. Reluctantly, they wheeled out "If..." and were astonished to see it turn into a big critical and commercial success.
Features the first instance of a full-frontal female nude passed by the British Board of Film Classification. Previously there had been instances of flashes of nakedness - notably in Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up (1966) - but "If..." had a prolonged shot of featured nudity.
Widely regarded as one of the films that captured the great counterculture movement of the late 60s, shooting actually began several months before one of the most significant events of that movement - the student riots in Paris in May 1968.
In order for the full-frontal nude scene of Mrs Kemp to be passed in the UK chief censor John Trevelyan asked Lindsay Anderson to remove shots of male genitals in the shower scene. Anderson agreed to this and the film was released uncut with an X certificate. For its 1971 cinema re-release a 'AA' (no under 14) certificate was given after some trims to nudity during the coffee shop sex scene, though all later 15-rated video and DVD releases have featured the original uncut cinema print.
Although the film was shot at Cheltenham Boys' College, the script "Crusaders" was based on the authors' old school Tonbridge School. Tonbridge was the original choice for the outdoor shots, but the school declined believing it would bring bad publicity. All-boys boarding schools were receiving quite unfavourable press at the time, which might explain Tonbridge's decision.
One of the provisions that Paramount made about the film was that it should be shot in a UK studio with a wholly British cast and crew. To keep costs down, Lindsay Anderson largely recruited from the theatrical world.
Very early in the film the viewer is given a hint of the counter-cultural themes the film revolves around when in the young boys' dormitory there are posters of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara (man of revolution) and Geronimo a.k.a. Goyathlay (man of rebellion).
The Packhorse Cafe doesn't exist anymore. It was on the Tewkesbury Road about four miles outside Cheltenham. The road in the film is lined with Elm trees and most of them vanished in the mid-70s because of an outbreak of Dutch elm disease, they've been replaced by another type of tree.
The female nude whose magazine picture Mick and his friends admire early in the film is Victoria Vetri (aka Angela Dorian) in her Playmate of the Year pictorial from the May 1968 issue of Playboy magazine.
The Packhorse café doesn't exist any more. It was on the A5, a few miles south of Dunstable near Kensworth. The white railings just before they pull into the café are still there. Where J&H Packhorse café was is now a filling station.
The jukebox in The Packhorse Cafe is a 1958 Rock-Ola 1464 Music Vendor which was the first ever wall mounted jukebox, although here it is seen as a floor standing version. Unfortunately it is not clear which selection number plays "Sanctus".
David Sherwin's original title for the screenplay was "Crusaders", during the writing of which he drew heavily from his experiences at Tonbridge School in Kent. In 1960, he and his friend and co-writer John Howlett took it to director Seth Holt. Holt felt unqualified to direct but offered to produce the film. They also took it to Sherwin's hero, Nicholas Ray, who liked it but had a nervous breakdown before anything came of it. Holt introduced Sherwin to Anderson in a Soho pub.
At the time of Lindsay Anderson's death he had completed a final draft of a proper sequel to the film, but it was never made. The sequel takes place during a Founders' Day celebration where many of the characters reunite. Mick Travis is now an Oscar-nominated movie star, eschewing England for Hollywood. Wallace is a military major who has lost his arm. Johnny is a clergyman. Rowntree is the Minister of War. In the script Rowntree is kidnapped by a group of anti-war students and saved by Mick and his gang, though not before Mick crucifies Rowntree with a large nail through his palm.
Some scenes were shot at the former Trinity School of John Whitgift in central Croydon before it was demolished to make way for the Whitgift Centre; pupil extras from Whitgift School were engaged at £5 per day.