Outside of some Fellini films, this is probably the most surprised I've been by the low quality of a supposedly fantastic film. It starts out well enough, and you think it's going to be a good public school film, which is right up my alley. I find the forced situation of public school to be unpleasant in reality but fascinating. At a certain point I took a break watching the film and I thought "this is good". The plot wasn't really going anywhere but it seemed to me a nice little slice of these characters and this period in time.
But eventually the film flies off the wheels in a very big way. A faculty member is killed and I was on the edge of my seat. "This is going in a different direction!" I thought. Then in a surreal sequence we see him alive again, and right there the movie kind of dies. Nothing makes sense anymore and nothing matters. I'm very shocked by how many people like this movie. It was I guess a smash when it first came out, another thing that baffles me.
It's one of the most uneven films I've ever seen; heck, it doesn't even know if it wants to be in color or not! If it's true that they were running out of money, this hare-brained director should have just put the whole movie in black and white, then we wouldn't have to put up with the jarring and arbitrary swtiches in style. It's also a very flat, visually uninteresting film with a bland color scheme. If Kubrick is pure, this guy is just stale.
I would only recommend watching it if you're a freak for Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" because Stanley saw this film (apparently several times) before making Clockwork and he seems to have been inspired a bit by the tone. There's an absense of morality in this film that we see again in Clockwork, and Clockwork has a similar style of rooting on the bad guy.
The characters show promise but don't really go anywhere. There are memorable things here and there but the movie's definitely a miss. The fact that this half-a-movie is getting the posh Criterion treatment is very amusing to me. What's next, 7th Heaven?
Mostly I rushed to see this film because I heard this was the film that won Malcolm the role of Alex in Clockwork. Not coming in with any expectations, I was kind of surprised that Malcolm Mcdowell's character here, Mick Travis, is sort of similar to his Clockwork character. But Kubrick and Mcdowell make the Alex character very definite and memorable. Mick Travis is supposed to be some anarchist, a hoodlum. But these are only ingredients for a character that could have been. Malcolm Mcdowell should definitely be commended for trying his best. He manages the best possible performance with a character that's a real void.