Michael Quint (Oliver Reed) has a successful job in advertising, a wife and little daughter, and two mistresses, but one day he walks into his office with an axe and smashes up his desk. He quits to become a literary agent on a modest magazine, where he meets secretary Georgina (Carol White), with whom he begins an affair. But Quint's ex-boss Jonathan Lute (Orson Welles) isn't going to let him get away that easily...
This swinging London drama was written by Peter Draper and paints a cynical portrait of the times, but nowadays is mostly remembered for being the first film to contain the word "Fuck". Well, it's either this one or the adaptation of James Joyce's Ulysses, which came out the same year. Anyway, by taking a long, cold look at a man trying to escape the rat race, it comes to the conclusion that once you're in it, you'll never get away, no matter how hard you try (and Quint tries very hard).
The trouble is, after about an hour of the main character's self pity, it becomes clear that there isn't much of a plot, which would be fine for a character study, but Winner's film has ambitions to be a fashionable statement on the times. As a result, it packs in too much, with Welles' Machiavellian company boss pulling the strings in the background, and Quint examining his childhood, marriage and relationships in the foreground. The quirky editing makes it all seem more electric than it actually is - it's more downbeat than that.
Reed does well as a picture of modern dissatisfaction, and really shines in the scenes where events overcome him and he loses control. In one of the best sequences, Quint returns to his old public school for a reunion, only to find that the bullies have regrouped, despite being supposedly grown up, and are hunting down a previous victim. Quint intervenes and is badly beaten - it looks as if the system trapped him early on (surreal flashbacks underline this). The women in his life cause him no end of trouble either: the film takes a "Can't live with them, can't live without them" approach as his wife wants a divorce and he can't settle on which woman he wants to stay with (for some reason the four main female characters strip to their underwear in the first twenty minutes).
And what of the famous swearing? Well, it comes near the end, where Quint has been lured back by Lute's machinations to direct a commercial that Lute wants to win awards with. Quint creates a scathing three minute critique of his life, including atomic bomb explosions, footage of Nazi mass graves, and Marianne Faithfull shouting "You fucking bastard!" (although it must be said the expletive is covered by the sound of a car horn). Of course, the ad doesn't have the desired effect, and, like the rest of the film, makes for an interesting view of the dark side of the sixties. Music by Francis Lai.