By Richard Winters
My Rating: 9 out of 10
4-Word Review: A young man’s journey.
Mick (Malcolm McDowell) is a wide-eyed young man entering into the adult world and full of Horatio Alger-like illusions of working real hard and becoming insanely rich while doing it. His first job is as a coffee salesman where he is told that ‘the-sky’s-the-limit’ in regards to his earning potential, so with the carrot-on-the-string firmly in place he dives into it, but ultimately finds little to show for it. He then meets up with a rich tycoon ( Ralph Richardson) and essentially becomes the man’s lapdog assistant only to learn that this doesn’t work either. After spending time in jail he comes back out into the world as a ‘reformed’ man extoling on the idealistic virtues of humbleness only to again meet with aversion and failure.
The film, which is based on an original idea by McDowell, is essentially a broad look at society’s many socio-economic class levels and how easy it is to fall down it, but hard to move up. Some consider Glengarry Glen Ross to be the bleakest indictment on the sales profession, but having worked in the business when I was like the character here first getting out into the working world I can say that this one is even more searing and accurate.
On a wider scope the film successfully works as a critical statement on capitalism, which due to the purveying political climate of the day most American audiences are just now ready to catch up to. Mick’s journey is more his eventual disillusionment as he slowly realizes that being a ‘go-getter’ and having a ‘good attitude’ isn’t going to be enough as the system is rigged so that the individual is more likely to lose than win and can’t really function otherwise. His efforts then become exploited while helping to make someone else richer as he tolls in the bottom rung doing lateral moves into areas that have potential promise, but only produce the same results.
Although the character’s perpetual delusions of grandeur become a bit annoying McDowell plays the part well. The intent was for him to play against type from the one that he did just previously in A Clockwork Orange by portraying someone who is clean-cut, respectful and obedient, but with all the transitions that the character goes through and at one point even having him strapped to a chair in much the same way that he was in the Kubrick film it eventually comes off more like a continuation of that part than a completely different one.
The fun of watching the film is seeing the supporting cast playing dual roles. Arthur Lowe is great especially in the part where he gets put into heavy black make-up to play the leader of a fictitious foreign nation. Rachel Roberts is good too with the erotic scene where she transfers coffee from her mouth into McDowell’s and then later as a poor woman who commits suicide, which has a foreboding quality to it since Roberts ended up doing the same thing five years later in real-life.
Fans of Helen Mirren will enjoy seeing her when she was much younger and playing the part of a rebellious daughter. I also liked the way Alan Price and his band fits into the film. They do the movie’s soundtrack, which is quite good, but instead of having their music played over the action the movie cuts away and captures them doing their renditions inside a sound studio, which in any other case would be considered distracting, but here helps accentuate the film’s already cerebral tone. It’s also amusing how the band ends up becoming a part of the story as the McDowell character almost gets hit by their van, which allows the opportunity for Price to say the film’s best line “Are we suing you, or are you suing us?”
The film is full of many surreal and original moments and is so consistently inventive that you hardly notice its three hour runtime. However, to me the best part about it is the way it attacks and criticizes the status quo, which is something that no Hollywood movie ever does.
My Rating: 9 out of 10
Released: March 26, 1973
Runtime: 2Hours 58Minutes
Director: Lindsay Anderson
Studio: Warner Brothers
Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube