Countless "human pinball" movies (think After Hours) owe a deep debt to O Lucky Man! Complex, fascinating, and even a bit confusing, the film is a sprawling, three-hour adventure that will quite literally have you guessing until the very end.
After an opening vignette that tells us exactly what it means to be "unlucky," we meet our "lucky" hero: Michael Travis (Malcolm McDowell) a sales trainee for a British coffee company. His first day on the job, that inimitable McDowell smile lands him an instant position in the field as a traveling sales rep serving the northeast part of England. Soon he's making sales calls and finds himself sucked into an upscale swinger's club, complete with live sex shows. Life's looking up... at least until a lost Travis stumbles upon a secret military base and is tortured as a spy... only to be saved at the last second when something unseen goes awry, causing the base to evacuate.
And so it goes. Travis's escapades take him to an experimental medical compound (one of the best moments in the film), then to a hippie van, and on to becoming the assistant to a wealthy industrial magnate (Ralph Richardson, perfect here). Travis looks like he's finally about to make something of himself, as he promises throughout the film... only to find himself framed for exporting gold bullion and sentenced to prison for five years. He eventually emerges, completely non-bitter about the whole thing, and starts fresh again.
Yes, you'll wonder how long this can go on, but over the course of two DVDs you'll likely find yourself enthralled nonetheless. McDowell, appearing in nearly every scene, charms his way through the film's less sensical parts and offers hysterical reactions when he's faced with the impossible and the absurd.
Director Lindsay Anderson makes things even more surreal by casting almost all the major actors in multiple roles, making you question your own senses when the same faces pop up scene after scene. Will it all end as a dream? (No.) Will it really even make sense? (Well, in a way.)
Some have said that O Lucky Man! is a parable for capitalism, but that's true only in the scenes that deal with business. O Lucky Man! is actually an indictment of modern society in many ways, which makes it a cool companion piece to other McDowell classics If.... and A Clockwork Orange. Nothing is spared in this film. Under the happy surface and McDowell's smiling face, sexual politics, the military, the medical world, and even suicide find themselves skewered.
The DVD includes commentary from writer David Sherwin, McDowell, and Alan Price (who appears with a band to play musical numbers in between acts, one of the film's less successful affectations), plus an extensive profile of McDowell (about 80 minutes long), in which he discusses his entire career.