O Lucky Man! (1973)
This sprawling, surrealist musical serves as an allegory for the pitfalls of capitalism, as it follows the adventures of a young coffee salesman in Europe. Many actors and actresses play multiple roles, giving the movie a stagy tone.
Follows the literal and associated life journey of middle class Brit, Mick Travis, representing the "everyman", as he tries to make his mark in his so far young life. He is able to make great strides in his traditional view of success by being what those in authority want him to be. As such, he achieves in a few weeks what it usually take years for others, namely having his own sales territory, the northeast and ultimately Scotland, for Imperial Coffee. He is also able to garner a plethora of fringe benefits from this job, including women throwing themselves at his feet. But he will ultimately face a struggle in class and authority warfare, which culminates with his encounter with the Burgess family, wealthy industrialist Sir James Burgess and his daughter Patricia, who Mick wants to marry, the former who is contemplating investing in the shady dealings in Zingara. Mick will also find that the class struggle not only applies in his case in an upward direction, but also in a downward direction with the working class and the truly down and out. Through it all, Alan Price and his small combo act as a Greek chorus of sorts providing commentary of Mick's travails through song.
- The film opens with a short fragment outside the plot but clearly related on repeated viewings. Grainy, black-and-white, and silent short, a title "Once Upon a Time" leads to Latino laborers picking coffee beans while armed foremen push rudely between them. One worker pockets a few beans ("Coffee for the Breakfast Table") but is seen by a foreman. He is next seen before a fat Caucasian magistrate who loses some saliva as he removes his cigar only to say "Guilty." The foreman pulls 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 lifts, descends, and we see the thief draw back in a silent scream. The scene blacks out, the word NOW appears onscreen and expands quickly to fill it.
Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) is the most promising new sales recruit at Imperial Coffee, a multinational coffee company and distributing factory located somewhere in the UK. His easy manner and winning smile bring him to the attention of the training manager Miss Rowe (Rachel Roberts). When it is learned that a senior salesman in the company has gone missing, Miss Rowe proposes that Mick be recruited to take over his coveted north-east sales sector.
After his first successful sale to a large hotel, Mick is invited by the hotel's manager (Arthur Lowe) to attend a private sex club, where Mick makes many valuable contacts, including high ranking government and police figures. On returning to his lodgings, he is contacted by Imperial Coffee and is informed that his sector will be expanded to include all of Scotland, requiring his immediate departure. A tailor (Ralph Richardson) who occupies an adjacent room, gives Mick a suit of golden material as a parting gift. The tailor gives him the following advice: "Try not to die like a dog."
En route to Scotland, Mick becomes lost and finds himself at the gates of a military facility. He is apprehended by a military detachment and, despite his protestations of innocence, is taken into custody. He is briefly interrogated and tortured by two men in plain clothes (Philip Stone and Michael Bangerter) who apparently believe him to be a foreign spy. To avoid further torture, Mick signs a confession and answers several questions relating to his movements as a spy. When a siren sounds, the two interrogators quickly flee the scene, and Mick is shortly after freed from his restraints by a tea-lady (Dandy Nichols).
Mick flees the facility as it gradually engulfed by fire. He makes his way back to his car, which is now also in flames. He retrieves his golden suit from the car shortly before it explodes. Mick makes his way through a blasted and burning landscape. When the clothes he is wearing are ruined by a downpour, he changes into his golden suit. After he has done so, he finds himself in an idyllic pastoral landscape and drinks from a fresh-water stream. He discovers a Christian church where a congregation is singing. Hungry and exhausted, he enters the church and collapses in a pew. When he awakes, the church is empty, but a large quantity of fresh produce has been collected at the altar. He is about to feed himself when he is warned by the vicar's wife (Mary MacLeod) that the food is for God. However, she takes pity on him and feeds him from her own breast.
His strength renewed, Mick joyously makes his way back to the road, accompanied by two children. When he reaches the motorway, he decides to head back to London. A car stops for him and asks if he would like to make some quick money by participating in a medical experiment. Mick agrees and is taken to a private clinic run by Professor Millar (Graham Crowden), who performs experimental transplant procedures. Millar informs Mick that his physiognomy is of a rare sort that would be of particular value to their research. Whilst awaiting surgery, Mick sneaks from his room and encounters a post-op patient whose head seems to have been transplanted onto the body of a four-legged animal. On seeing this, Mick flees the clinic in terror.
He is next picked up by group of musicians in a van. Inside the van, he discovers a young woman, Patricia (Helen Mirren), hidden under a blanket. He immediately falls in love with her and stays with her on his return to London. Over breakfast, Patricia reveals that her father, Sir James Burgess (Ralph Richardson), is a wealthy copper magnate. Mick decides to insinuate his way into Sir James's company on the pretence that has important information to report on his daughter's welfare. During his interview with Sir James, a disgruntled senior employee (Graham Crowden) commits suicide by jumping from Sir James's office window. Sir James's assistant, in attempting to prevent the suicide, also falls to his death, and Mick is immediately recruited to replace him.
Mick's first assignment with Sir James is to attend negotiations with Dr. Munda (Arthur Lowe), president of the African nation of Zingara, who is trying to convince Sir James to establish copper mining operations in his country. As part of the negotiation, Munda requests large quantities of a chemical weapon called "honey" to ensure that Sir James's operations will protected from local insurgencies. Mick oversees the delivery of the "honey" by the British Air Force to Zingara.
A dinner party is held at Sir James's home to finalise the business transaction with Munda. Mick encounters Patricia receiving a marriage proposal by a pathetic English aristocrat (Michael Medwin). Although Mick is incensed, she informs Mick that she may indeed accept the proposal. Sir James offers Munda a large quantity of gold bullion for the right to set up operations in Zingara, but, since the gold must be exported to Zingara illegally, Sir James organises it so that Mick is framed for the crime involved in its delivery. Mick is arrested at the party and brought to court, where he is found guilty and sentenced to five years imprisonment.
The prison system in which Mick is incarcerated prides itself on its compassion and its willingness to attend the spiritual and intellectual rehabilitation of its inmates. At the end of his sentence, Mick expresses that he is fully transformed as a human being. Shortly after his release, he encounters a Salvation Army band and offers a large donation from his own limited funds. The band leader (Philip Stone) initially praises Mick's generous spirit, but condemns him when Mick announces that he no longer believes in "sin", and that he regards humanity as a united brotherhood. The band and their followers fall to their knees to pray for Mick, who otherwise remains upright and walks away.
Mick becomes aware of a disturbance in a nearby neighbourhood. When he investigates, he discovers that a local woman, Mrs. Richards (Rachel Roberts), has barricaded herself in her flat, where she is promising to commit suicide. In an attempt to save her, Mick scales the outside wall of her flat and appeals to her through the window. He assures her that she has every reason in the world to continue living, and he recites various inspirational poetic works to convince her to change her mind. Mrs. Richards, however, remains implacable. Mick falls three storeys to the street below. He is awoken several hours later by a policeman who informs him that Mrs. Richards has completed her suicide.
Mick next encounters a mobile soup kitchen. Although he is hungry and destitute himself, he does not accept any food, but rather volunteers to assist the proprietor (Vivian Pickles) in her work. The proprietor eagerly accepts Mick's offer and, giving him a large pot of soup and several paper cups, directs him to distribute it to a community of tramps gathered around a bonfire. As he is distributing the soup, he encounters Patricia, now destitute, cradling an unconscious man in her arms. She recognises Mick and informs him that she accepted the marriage proposal, and indicates that the unconscious figure she is cradling is her husband. The rest of the tramps quickly become hostile towards Mick. They disdain his patronising charity and pelt him with stones.
The next morning, Mick encounters a man handing out invitations to an open film audition. Mick attends the audition, where he is singled out by the director (Lindsay Anderson). The director asks him to strike a number of poses for a still photographer. However, when the director asks Mick to smile, Mick asks "Why?" and argues that one cannot smile without a reason. The director assaults him in frustration, and Mick struggles to smile with difficulty. Yet, when he finally succeeds in smiling, he is brought to a state of near ecstasy: surrounded by many figures from his own past, happy and reconciled, he dances to upbeat music within a collective brotherhood of humanity.