Movie Information

If... is part of a series of Classic Cinema From Around the World being presented at 8 p.m. Friday, July 13 at Courtyard Gallery, 9 Walnut St. in downtown Asheville. For more information call 273-3332.
Genre: Drama
Director: Lindsay Anderson
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, David Wood, Richard Warwick, Chrisine Noonan
Rated: X

Lindsay Anderson’s If…. (1968) introduced filmgoers to a young TV actor named Malcolm McDowell and led to what would ultimately be Anderson’s trilogy of films with McDowell’s character. If… is one of the undisputed classics of modern British cinema. The story is simple—simmering resentment at an English boys school ultimately turns into open, violent, bloody revolution. Anderson’s idea was to use this ultra-traditional microcosm of British society to make a larger, allegorical point about what was happening in the country (indeed, in a lot of countries) on a broader scale. At the time, the idea of a revolt at a boys school probably seemed almost like science fiction (despite the fact that the film’s roots are in Jean Vigo’s 1933 surrealist short feature Zero de Conduite). Today, the story is all too believable, even if the conditions surrounding have altered a bit. Anderson’s is a bold film, an angry one. There’s little of the humor that punctuates its more fanciful sequel, O Lucky Man! (1973), and not even much of the intensely bitter comedy of the final film in the set, Britannia Hospital (1982).

It’s an unrestrained swipe at society—and even at counter-culture society. There are really no heroes here. Even Mick Travers (McDowell) is hardly that. We first meet him wearing a slouch hat with a scarf pulled up to hide his face. This turns out to be to hide the fact that he’s grown a mustache (“to hide my sins”)—an act of very mild defiance, since he hides it from the school authorities and shaves it off before they see it. But it’s the first gesture of what will follow. Anderson chose to approach the material in a way that makes it all vaguely surreal, so that it’s often hard to tell if everything we see is real (is the school chaplain really in a large coffin-like drawer after the bogus attempt on his life by Mick and his companions?), making the film just that much more powerfully compelling. It’s an essential film for anyone interested in cinema.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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8 thoughts on “If….

  1. Orbit DVD

    This just came out on dvd by Criterion and is one of the best releases of the year. I highly recommend the whole trilogy (O LUCKY MAN is rumored to come out later this year).


  2. Ken Hanke

    Of course, O LUCKY MAN! will come out later this year, since I just transferred it from laserdisc to DVD-R a month or so ago. It always works that way.

  3. Dionysis

    So it’s not just me, eh. I had over 2,000 laserdiscs (yeah, I know…sucker), and spent significant time copying titles that were on laser disc (but not on DVD) onto DVD-R, searching for original artwork and making my own graphics, etc. While it was kind of fun and nice to have titles unavailable on DVD, I now find that the majority of them have since been released on DVD. Even titles that I especially like to collect (i.e. 1950s sci-fi & cheesy horror titles) that are obscure are being released on DVD. So, I don’t even have my DVD recorder hooked up now. Sniff.

  4. Ken Hanke

    To Marc — of course, I transfered LISZTOMANIA. It was probably the first thing I copied. I also made a DVD-R for Ken Russell.

    To Dionysis — I think I stopped around 500 discs. I don’t suppose by any chance you happened to buy the Ernst Lubitsch box set called THE LUBITSCH TOUCH? I transferred all of the films in that except ONE HOUR WITH YOU. The disc had somehow become unplayable. A copy of that title — from that particular set (it was tinted and restored and even had exit music) — is high on my want list.

  5. patrick mendes

    Just watched this film, and because of your recommendation, Ken. I was fascinated by it almost immediately. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction.

  6. Ken Hanke

    Thanks for pointing me in the right direction.

    You’re welcome. I was musing just the other night to Justin as to what had become of you.

  7. irelephant

    I’ve come across many different adventures in the last few months. Adventure, afterall, is always welcome, but I haven’t had much time for much else. Added to which I turned into a workaholic…though, on a brighter note, I was able to check out IF…., and I spent a quiet night watching STARDUST MEMORIES. Life ain’t all bad. Say–have you seen Todd Haynes’ VELVET GOLDMINE?

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