Home > Index > Drama | > Movie Review

Becoming a Man

Plot Overview

Continuing a time-worn tradition students at College House a British public school—Americans would call it a private school—are returning for a new 1960s academic year. “Stand up, stand up for College,” is solemnly intoned in the back­ground while students of their respective years file in. The fresh­men (called scum) are completely at the service of the others while of the seniors the privileged prefects (called whips) lord it over all their class­mates.

A “Guy Fawkes” type arrives, his face hidden beneath a dark scarf. When an upper­class­man tries to unmask him, the scarf only gets wound tighter in the other direction. Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) is sporting a rakish mustache that he shaves off before any­one—except his two buddies Johnny (David Wood) and Wallace (Richard Warwick)—is any the wiser. Remaining is long hair in back, an insouciant smile, and a devil-may-care slouch that Head Whip Rown­tree (Robert Swann) is unable to disci­pline out of him. The more he tries to unwind his attitude, the tighter it gets wound in the other direction.


The opening title reads:

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get under­standing. PROVERBS IV:7

Apt for a Christian institution of learning, I would say. The school chaplain (Geoffrey Chater) will later elaborate with, (Deut. 4:8,6)

And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day? Keep there­fore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your under­standing in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and under­standing people.

He points out that College House boasts a 500 year tradition, a quarter of all the Christian era. The teachers dispense knowledge while being examples of wisdom and under­standing while the upper­class­men are examples to the lower, and the whole school is a light to the community. Right!

The plot will concern but one proverb, and not even a proverb of Solomon, but one of the good-boy proverbs at the end: (Prov. 30:33) “Surely the churning of milk bringeth forth butter, and the wringing of the nose bringeth forth blood: so the forcing of wrath bringeth forth strife.” We witness how churning of soap with a shaving brush brings forth foam, and the drawing of a straight razor across the thumb pad brings forth blood (for a blood oath.) Just as surely will excessive punish­ment bring forth strife. It's inevitable.

The headmaster (Peter Jeffrey) gives them only ONE rule that they must obey: “There is work, and there is play, but don't mix the two.” Mick and his friend Johnny horse around fencing in their free time, then carry on horsing around in town where they're forbidden to go but at least it's unmixed play. They steal a motor­bike for a joy­ride and stop at an empty café for some refresh­ment. Their girl server (Christine Noonan) comes out to the floor to horse around with Mick, playing tigress, and she joins them on their joy­ride. She mixed work with pleasure, and later when Mick and his two friends are given a serious job of cleaning out storage, they will with her aid unearth some live ordinance turning their job into playing with fire.

In 1969 when this movie came out, it was a hit in England responding to the tumultuous times. I remember in 1970 the Nat'l Guard killing students in Ohio, the state where I was going to college at the time, but the schools seemed able to get a handle on our concerns: the playing at a pointless war in Vietnam. But the revolution was infiltrated then by women's lib, and I don't think our Christian institutions have yet recovered from women leaving their place. And that's not even to comment on the succeeding gay rights agenda, or as was spoken in the movie, “This homo­sexual flir­ta­tious­ness is so adoles­cent.

Production Values

“If....” (1968) was directed by Lindsay Anderson, its screenplay written by David Sherwin who with John Howlett wrote the original script for “Crusaders” as its first form, in turn derived from the abortive French short Jean Vigo's 1933 “Zero De Conduite” (“Zero for Conduct”).The title was a secretary's suggestion likely in turn suggested by Kipling's poemIf—” about becoming a man: “You'll be a man, my son” (338). For that matter the Girl likens her­self to a tiger on account of her big eyes, perhaps a reflection of Blake's poem “The Tyger”: “the fire of thine eyes” (188).

Its star attraction was Malcolm McDowell. The acting was okay but couldn't compensate for lack of character development. We learn very little about any of them except how they behave with each other. Miroslav Ondricek did great camera-work, but used a mixture of B&W and Color on account of financial limitations, with no artistic value gained as far as I could see. Marc Wilkin­son took care of the music that blended in well enough.

A couple school locations turned them down for shooting as soon as they read the script, so they came up with a false script in order to get permissions. Then the production company decided to shelve the movie; it was too bad to show. How­ever, the Eady Plan regulating what movies get shown in a season required one more with British actors, and this was the only one they had, so it got shown any­way. It was a smash hit. A couple of its producers driving into London on opening night noticed an extremely long consumer line, and one of them said to the other, “I'd sure like to have a piece of that movie.” It was theirs.

Review Conclusion w/ Consumer Recommendation

“If....” tried my patience, and I'm a reviewer easy to please. Its redeeming quality was the way it shone a light on a tumultuous period of history (1969) that I had lived through, but not in England. I think the British might appreciate it best as it reflects on their culture. For the rest of us it at least gives a feel of history though not in a docu­men­tary. It's some­what shy of adequate plot and character development, and it might serve best as an alternate for when your buddies and you can't agree on another, here's one that will leave all of you equally cold.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes

Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age

Special effects: Average special effects

Video Occasion: Standby

Overall product rating: Three stars out of five

Suspense: A few suspenseful moments

Works Cited

Scripture taken from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Blake, William (1757–1827) and Kipling, Rudyard (1865–1936). C.F. Main & Peter J. Seng, eds. Poems. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub. Co., 4th ed. Print.