Retro Review: if… (1968)

At a time when street protests were all the rage in Europe, and British society was going through a period of great change, this unusual film was released in cinemas here. Directed by Lindsay Anderson, a one-time darling of the British New Wave Cinema, and starring many stalwart character actors, alongside some exciting new young discoveries, including Malcolm McDowell, in his first screen role. It lampooned the old Public School (read expensive private school) system in the UK, and injected the revolutionary spirit of the time too.

Set in a fictional boarding school, we follow the antics of a disillusioned trio of older boys who are all more than ready to rebel against the privileged system that they are a part of. The familiar hangovers of Victorian schooling are still there. Younger boys used as servants for the Prefects, and harsh corporal punishment dealt out too. Homosexuality is rife, and frustrated female staff feature, with one wandering naked around the school, when the boys are out.

Travis, Wallace, and Johnny are the truculent trio, opposing authority at every opportunity. They drink, they smoke, and even steal a motorcycle. On one of the jaunts, they meet a young girl working in a cafe. She joins their group, and it soon becomes apparent that there will be a clash between the stuffy staff with their allied compliant pupils, and the defiant group that refuses to conform. The catalyst for this is a brutal episode where the Prefects cane all three of the boys in the gymnasium. Following that incident, the girl arrives to help, and they find a store of military weapons, used by the school’s Officer Training Corps.

In the climactic finale, a gun battle ensues, with the rebellious group firing on the staff and pupils as they assemble for the annual Founders Day parade.

This film is deliberately surreal at times. Switching from colour to black and white for some sequences, and not shying away from sex and nudity either. (Which gained it an ‘X’ certificate) The soundtrack is superb too. I was 16 when I saw it at the cinema, and thought it was simply marvellous. It poked fun at everything I detested, and had a fantasy plot that I was attracted to, in every way. The supporting cast is top-notch, including such familiar British faces as Peter Jeffrey, Arthur Lowe, Graham Crowden, and Mona Washbourne. It won the Palme D’Or at Cannes in 1969, and has been hailed by the British Film Institute as one of the greatest British films of all time.

But I have to say that the last time I watched it on TV, around ten years ago, I wondered if it wasn’t past its prime…Here’s a trailer.

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48 thoughts on “Retro Review: if… (1968)

    1. This is most unlike the mass school shootings in America, Jennie. But given recent events, I can understand why it might seem insensitive.
      I felt suitably rebellious in 1968. If fact, I remained rebellious, well into my fifties. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, I completely understand the context of the movie. Back then, really funny. I would have laughed my head off. Today it could be just as funny, had it not been for the shooters. 1968 was a great year, the first I felt somewhat rebellious. Those years gave me courage. Best to you, Pete.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Carol. I always reflect on how little has changed since 1968.
      We still have lots of rich kids in expensive schools here, going on to lead privileged lifestyles, and get better opportunities.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I worked as a caretaker at Giggleswick School (not much change from £12k a year to go there) a long time ago and before they let girls in. They even had there own cadet force! The trailer took me back to my days with a mop and broom! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. It was on Youtube last year, I managed to catch it. But Youtube takes them down as fast as they go up. Usually something interesting to see there on most days though.

      If… I’ve seen it a few times. The shoot out looks like they either lost the plot or were lost for an ending. Up to that point it’s a good film.

      Liked by 3 people

        1. I soon realised I had seen it in the past, but let it runs its course as the one thing I didn’t remember was the ending which, as BF said, I think they were lost for an ending.
          I had a bit of s giggle though as it also brought back the Monty Python sketch from The Meaning of life (I think).

          Liked by 1 person

  1. Pete, to me “…if” is still powerful – it captures a specific moment in time in our society – a time when the boundaries were being broken in terms of subject matter in film…and of course, Director Anderson and Malcolm McDowell followed this with another great great film with an amazing soundtrack – “O Lucky Man”! Here is something I posted on it:

    https://johnrieber.com/2013/03/22/o-lucky-man-malcolm-mcdowells-seinfeld-connection/

    Liked by 1 person

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