The alleged Mick Travis trilogy…but mostly about O Lucky Man

When is a trilogy a trilogy, and when is it just three different movies? The Lord of the Rings is clearly a trilogy. John Ford’s cavalry is just three westerns set amongst horse soldiers.

The Criterion Channel is currently offering what they’re calling Lindsay Anderson’s Mick Travis Trilogy. The films:

  • If…. (1968)
  • O Lucky Man! (1973)
  • Britannia Hospital (1982)

At a quick glance, they look like a trilogy. All three films were written by David Sherwin, directed by Lindsay Anderson, and starred Malcolm McDowell as a British bloke named Mick Travis.

But is it one Mick Travis or three? He has the same face and name, but he’s an entirely different person in each movie. The Mick Travis of If… would be either dead or in prison by the time the Mick Travis or O Lucky Man! is selling coffee beans.

Let’s consider the movies:

B If…

I loved this crazy movie when it was new, but it hasn’t entirely aged well. Set in a British boarding school, it presents that environment as a living hell. Everyone bullies those below them and suffers the bullying of those above them. The adult staff encourages this. Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) leads the rebels, sometimes violently. The film is weird, surreal, and unbelievable, and those are its best features. Occasionally it cuts to black and white for no discernible reason (I’m guessing there were technical issues). The shocking ending seemed surreal in 1968 England; it’s too close for comfort in 21st Century America.

A O Lucky Man!

In this brilliantly funny yet serious satire of capitalist society, Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) is a very ambitious but extremely naïve young man. Starting out as an apprentice coffee salesman, he can smile sincerely on cue. But over the film’s near three-hour runtime, he gets tortured by the military, captured by a mad scientist, set up for his employer’s felony, and discovers that kindness is paid off with cruelty. By the end, he has “nothing to smile about.”

Alan Price’s cynical songs about the evils of capitalism make up a Greek chorus. Rather than using the songs as a soundtrack to a montage, the film cuts to Price and his band recording while director Lindsay Anderson watches.

Thanks to Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange, McDowell was a star by the time O Lucky Man was in production. That gave Anderson a bigger budget, which allowed a more high-class cast. Among the faces popping up are Ralph Richardson, Arthur Lowe, Vivian Pickles, and a very young and luscious Helen Mirren.

But Anderson didn’t forget the still unknown actors he used in If…. Faces from that earlier movie keep popping up. Almost every actor in the film plays more than one character, creating a running gag with Mick doing several “Haven’t I seen you before?” takes.

Is O Lucky Man a sequel? This Mick Travis appears to be an entirely different person – optimistic and naïve, instead of angry and violent. But the movie ends with an If…. reference that suggests that this Mick will get a chance to star in the earlier film.

If…. and O Lucky Man became a popular revival house double bill in the 1970s. If you have five hours to spare in front of the TV, these two films are well worth watching.

F Britannia Hospital

What a waste of two hours! What a waste of film! I laughed once in this alleged comedy. It moved me…but only to hope the movie would end soon. It’s a bad day at the titular establishment, which has a fancy wing for rich people and an old, battered wing for those on the National Health. The catering staff is on strike. There’s a riot going on. The queen is coming for a visit. And yet another mad scientist, this one on the hospital staff, is about to create his own Frankenstein’s monster.

So how does Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) fit in? He’s only a minor character this time; a reporter spying on the mad scientist. And an early bit of dialog makes it clear that this Mick Travis is not either of the others.

The last film in this so-called trilogy is a dud.