Saturday, November 13, 2010

483. if... (1968)

Running Time: 111 minutes
Directed By: Lindsay Anderson
Written By: David Sherwin, John Howlett
Main Cast: Malcolm McDowell, David Wood, Richard Warwick, Christine Noonan, Robert Swann


Wrapping up Hitchcock and leaping back into the great randomization, has me watching "If..." tonight. For the readers who have been following me for a while, you may remember my thoughts on Jean Vigo's "Zero for Conduct"...well this one wasn't much better.

Malcolm McDowell makes his film debut as Mick Travis, a non-conforming student at an all male boarding school. The plot itself is pretty straight forward, so we won't spend a lot of time harping on it. The professors are referred to as "Whips" and are painted as cruel oppressors to the students. The senior boys are given more leeway than their juniors, and the first-year students are called "Scum", basically taking on the role of servants to the "Whips", serving them tea, helping them bathe and other demeaning practices. Mick Travis and his two roommates are the biggest rule breakers at the school, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol in their room, when they're alone. Throughout the film they are punished and as the film progresses, the punishments get worse, until the boys eventually snap and are forced to revolt.


On paper, the movie sounds like something I'd like to watch. I loved Malcolm McDowell in "A Clockwork Orange", so why wouldn't I love him in the film that inspired his Alex DeLarge character? While I didn't like "Zero for Conduct", the idea of a group of boarding school boys being mistreated to the point of revolt also appealed to me. Add in the fact that the film was made in the late 1960s, when more risque films were being produced and you have a sure hit maker on your hands and a strong candidate for my upcoming "TOP 20" list. WRONG!

Maybe my hopes were a little too high and I was hoping for a really breakout, fabulous piece of film making, but that is certainly not what I got. I really wanted to like this film, but somewhere in the middle my connection to the film was cut and I began to bore with it. Maybe this isn't the type of film you look at in the simplest of terms, but I did (in a way). In looking at the film in simple terms, I found that there was a lack of direction. Going into the movie, we know that there will be an inevitable battle between the students and the teachers, so that's a given. We get a good setup in the beginning, introducing us to the main characters, getting nestled into our setting and learning the basic plot of the film. But then somewhere between those first and last ten minutes of the movie (outside of the corporal punishment scene, which I thought was very well done), I get lost, bored and very uninterested, as we get scenes that may or may not be actually happening, characters that may or may not actually exist and a lot of malarkey that does nothing to tie the plot together and give us a cohesive storyline.

In my opinion, the film tried to hard to be artistic and tried ever harder to get its message across. I took the film as a never ending, though mostly non-existent, war between youth and elders, past and future, a clash of cultures. To me, that was the message of the film and if I'm right in assuming that that is the message (or at least one of them), then the film could've easily benefited in being a straightforward film, with a straightforward plot and straightforward characters, instead of adding in a bunch mumbo jumbo, artistic stuff, that left me scratching my head and searching the Internet for answers to unanswered questions. For example: Some scenes in the film are shot in black & white, but most of the film is shown in color. I wondered about this element as I watched and then later came to realize that the explanation for that, was not artistic at all, but merely that the production was running out of money and couldn't afford to shoot those scenes in color. Come on! A seemingly artistic element added to the film turns out to be lack of funds? Other things that seem to go unanswered are: Did the girl (Noonan) exist? Why was the school chaplain kept in a drawer? Why were we given a seemingly gratuitous and meaningless nude scene with Mrs. Kemp (Mary MacLeod)? Did the final battle even happen?

Too many unanswered questions, not enough intrigue to form my own answers and not enough substance to "If..." for me to really get into it. Like I said, I wanted to like it, but in the end I didn't and that, my friends, is that.

RATING: 4/10 A '4' for some successful scenes and for Malcolm McDowell, but that is as high as I can possibly go.


November 13, 2010 3:08am


  1. Well thank you for trying to like this! And, no I most certainly didn't take offence at this - or any other - film you didn't like (I think 'Cat people' is our strongest divergance!)
    It is most certainly an odd film. I long for a day when someone will explain the 'Chaplin in the filing cabinet' bit.
    I perhaps had a slightly fortuitious start with 'If..' in that I first saw it ages ago when almost everyone only had a B&W telly. I therefore didn't notice the odd switch between colour/B&W.
    I think you have a point that the nudity of Mrs. K had a BIT to do with being daring in it's age, but was also to show her alienation from the whole world of the school. She needed some form of escape from what was perhaps an equaly repressive circle as the boys had to suffer. I believe the girl existed, but the nude danc/fight/sex in the cafe was imagined. It was there to show the immediate bond between the rebels.
    Asd ever, thanks for an inteligent, considered review of a film you didn't take to!

  2. Well thanks for an intelligent comment Ray. I guess this was just another one of our disagreements, but I'm glad you were able to find something in "If..."


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