1968, Paramount Pictures
David Sherwin (screenplay and original script “Crusaders”)
John Howlett (original script “Crusaders”)
Malcolm McDowell (Michael “Mick” Travis)
David Wood (Johnny)
Richard Warwick (Wallace)
Christine Noonan (The Girl)
Rupert Webster (Bobby Phillips)
Robert Swann (Rowntree)
Hugh Thomas (Denson)
Michael Cadman (Fortinbras)
Peter Sproule (Barnes)
Peter Jeffrey (Headmaster)
Arthur Lowe (Mr. Kemp)
Mary McLeod (Mrs. Kemp)
Geoffrey Chater (Chaplain Wood)
Malcolm McDowell makes a great film debut in this very surreal look at class within a college from director Lindsay Anderson.
Another year at College is about to start. While there are teachers and a headmaster, the school is more or less run by the Whips. The Whips are a handpicked foursome of seniors led by Rowntree who truly run the school with an iron fist. They are allowed to instill discipline towards the underclassmen as well as fellow seniors how they seek fit. They even make some of the younger students their own personal servants.
Three seniors who oppose the Whips by doing as they please are Mick, Johnny, and Wallace. This trio spends their time drinking, looking at dirty magazines, and running amok yet still prove themselves in the classroom much to the chagrin of the Whips. Mick goes as far as even meeting a young woman who is just like him and the two start off a relationship. However, when the Whips have had enough of this trio’s antics and punish them, this sets off a chain reaction in which the trio may have something planned for the Whips and put an end to their iron rule once and for all.
Lindsay Anderson is quite an interesting filmmaker perhaps known for his films involving the David Sherwin-created character of everyman Michael “Mick” Travis. This is the first of a trilogy of films featuring Travis (followed by 1971’s O Lucky Man and 1978’s Britannia Hospital) and is driven by the performance of the legendary actor who personified the role of Mick Travis: Malcolm McDowell.
McDowell, who began his career in television, makes his film debut and does a great job of portraying Mick as a college senior who lives life despite the discipline of the nasty Whips. His cohorts are well played by David Wood and Richard Warwick, who not only follow Mick’s lead but love just chilling around and going against the norms much to the chagrin of the elitist Whips. Christine Noonan’s character doesn’t even have a name but she does quite well despite some off-screen rivalry with McDowell.
The Whips are the seniors who more or less, rule the school, despite there being a staff of teachers and a headmaster. These are the guys who instill discipline, make juniors their personal servants, and are pretty much the iron fist of the school. While the leader of the group, Robert Swann’s Rowntree, seems to be somewhat a little open to certain aspects, the annoyance of the Whips is Denson, played by Hugh Thomas. Denson is the type who believes in order and is a total by-the-book fellow. In other words, he’s the one who everyone will not be able to stand. It might not be surprising if James Spader’s character of Richards in 1987’s Mannequin is modeled after this character in both looks and foremanner.
What also drives the film are two key factors. Anderson, with the help of cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek, would put random scenes in black-and-white mixed in with color. This may somewhat bring confusion, but just this concept really proves to be remarkable in its execution. However, the piece de resistance is the finale, which is just beyond surreal and is both insane and intriguing in how the film ends. While it will not be spoiled here, it does involve perhaps the final stamp in the trio of Mick, Johnny, and Wallace against the Whips.
If… is truly a very interesting film about rankings in a college but revolves more about the elitist and the trio of young senior who have had enough and must attempt to do something about the “iron rule” of the school, all driven by a film debuting Malcolm McDowell, the juxtaposition of color and black-and-white; and the very shocking finale of the film.
WFG RATING: A