A Clockwork Orange: Surprising Stories

a clockwork orange - title photo

Loved Stanley Kubrick’s disturbing, futuristic film? A cult classic, this movie inspires many discussions, but did you know all the weird and interesting things that happened while filming? Read on for some amazing behind-the-scenes stories, trivia, and great photos! Plus, we’ve found a really cool video that you can watch at the end!

The Star Wars Connection

Clockwork Orange Darth Vader
Did you know that David Prowse, the man inside Darth Vader, was actually discovered in A Clockwork Orange? He had a role as F. Alexander’s bodyguard Julian, in which he was noticed by the future Star Wars director George Lucas.

Kubrick hints at his other work in the movie!

PicMonkey Collage

Stanley Kubrick directed this film in 1971. In fact, in the scene where Alex approaches the two girls in the record stand, you can see the original soundtrack for 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of his most famous films. In the above photo, it is directly to the right of Alex.

Controversy was everywhere!

a clockwork orange - controversy

A Clockwork Orange has been rated the #2 out of 25 Most Controversial Films (Entertainment Weekly), “Most Dangerous Film” by Premier, and Stanley Kubrick himself prevented the film from being shown or sold UK until 2001 after a few copycat crimes were committed. He even made his assistant destroy any unused footage!

A New Language

a clockwork orange - nadsat

Nadsat is  a fictional language made up by the author of the original book, Anthony Burgess. It is a mixture of Russian and Cockney English slang, which uses a lot of rhyming phrases. Nadsat literally means “teen” in Russian. The book comes with a glossary of terms in the back, but you need to figure out what they’re saying in the movie.

The Famous Eye Scene
A Clockwork Orange Movie Cinemagraphs

In order to film the aversion therapy scene, Malcolm McDowell’s eyes were numbed so he could keep them open. A real doctor was watching to make sure everything was okay; however, his cornea accidentally got scratched and he only realized several hours later, when the anesthesia wore off! He described the feeling as “nasty, viciously painful.” Ouch!

Singing in the Rain

a clockwork orange - singing in the rain

In the scene where Alex and his “droogs” attack the writer and his wife, Alex is singing. Kubrick felt that the scene was a bit too boring so asked Malcolm McDowell if he could sing or dance to make the scene a bit more outrageous. McDowell started humming “Singing in the Rain” and the contrast between the violent crime and cheerful song worked perfectly.

Real Torture

a clockwork orange - waterboard

Many people think that Malcolm McDowell nearly drowned during the waterboarding. In fact, there was an oxygen tank in the trough to make sure he could breathe. You can even see it if you look extra hard. If you read on, you’ll find out other times when McDowell wasn’t quite as lucky during filming.

Anthony Burgess regrets writing his book?

a clockwork orange - anthony burgess

The film, which came out in 1971, was based on the 1962 novel of the same name, written by Anthony Burgess in under three weeks. Burgess later said, “I should not have written the book”, fearing that readers would misunderstand it.

An Unlikely Classical Music Buff

a clockwork orange - beethoven1

Alex’s character is famously known for loving Beethoven. However, the classical composer Rossini’s music is featured more frequently in the soundtrack. It is also ironic that Alex loves Beethovens 9th Symphony so much, as the composer meant it to be an expression of human goodness, while Alex is the opposite of that ideal.

Beethoven’s Doorbell

a clockwork orange - home entry

The doorbell at the Alexander residence plays his favorite composer, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, just set to a different pitch. He rings that doorbell twice – once as a violent delinquent, and once as a “reformed” criminal.

Scary Snakes

a clockwork orange - snake

Director Stanley Kubrick introduced Basil, the snake, only after finding out that Malcolm McDowell was terrified of snakes! This wasn’t the only time the director (famously known for being a bit difficult) disregarded the actor’s feelings, whether physical or emotional, as we’ll see later in the article.

Costume Creation

a clockwork orange - outfit

Costume designer Milena Canonero was having a hard time figuring out the perfect costume for the film. When McDowell, a cricket player, came in for a fitting one day while in his cricket gear, director Stanley Kubrick was inspired and told McDowell to keep his gear on. When McDowell started putting his protective jockstrap on under his pants, Kubrick decided that the costume needed the cup over the pants, and the iconic look was born.

Seems like a lot of people weren’t happy about this film!

a clockwork orange - gene kelly

Many people were upset about the movies disturbing themes. In particular, Gene Kelly was angry that his signature song, “Singing in the Rain” was used for such a violent film. Apparently when McDowell (who played Alex) and Kelly met at a party, Kelly ignored McDowell out of disgust.

Juvenile Delinquent

a clockwork orange - alex delarge

It can seem shocking that a young teen would commit such violent acts, and Alex’s character was 15 in the beginning of the film and 17 at the end. The actor playing him, however, was 27!

On-Set Accidents

a clockwork orange - fight

In one of the fight scenes, an actor accidentally cracked one of McDowell’s ribs when he kicked him. Sounds like that guy got quite the beating during filming – scratched cornea, snakes, a cracked rib – filming A Clockwork Orange was not without many risks!

The Story of the Car
a clockwork orange - car

The car that Alex and his sidekicks drive in the film is an “Adams Probe 16”, and is one of three ever made. This super-sleek, futuristic car stands only 34 inches tall and entry is through a glass sliding roof. The car was built by British designers Dennis and Peter Adams in an attempt to build the lowest-riding car ever.

What’s a Droog?

a clockwork orange - droogs

The language in the film is called Nadsat, and is based loosely on Russian, with several other influences. The word for friend in Russian sounds like “drugs”, and “droogs” is a play on that word. Other interesting words include Bolshy, which means big, and Cancer, meaning cigarette.

She refused to do it!

a clockwork orange - adrienne cory

The actress originally cast for the super disturbing rape scene actually quit before filming because she was so horrified by the violence depicted. She was replaced by Adrienne Cory, who famously said to McDowell, “Well, Malcolm, today you’re going to find out I’m a real redhead”.

Budget Reasons?

a clockwork orange - set

After the super-expensive 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick wanted to prove he could shoot a low-budget film. Some think that because of that, only three sets were built: the Korova Milk Bar, the bathtub in the writers house, and the prison check-in area. The tables at the Korova Milk Bar are inspired by British artist Allen Jones, who used women’s forms in furniture design.

One of the best films of the year!

a clockwork orange - movie

This was Warner Brother’s highest-grossing film of 1971. Despite that, it was blocked from viewing in the UK from 1973 to 2001. Video stores took to putting up signs saying, “No, we don’t have A Clockwork Orange” from so many requests for the film.

A Strange Fellow

a clockwork orange - bar

Author Anthony Burgess has always claimed he heard the phrase “as queer as a clockwork orange” while in a pub in East London, but linguists have never found any reference to that saying. Many think that Burgess came up with it on his own.

A Hat Man

a clockwork orange - poster

Phillip Castle designed the poster for A Clockwork Orange, as well as another Kubrick film, Full Metal Jacket. He recalls Kubrick being obsessed with getting the bowler hat in the poster perfect — anything after that was fine. It took about six months of work to get the poster just right!

The Rolling Droogs?

a clockwork orange - mick jagger

Mick Jagger originally bought the rights to the film for $500, wanting the Rolling Stones to play the part of the Droogs with him as Alex. He eventually sold the rights back, though, and the Kubrick version we know and love was created.

No to Beethoven, yes to…

a clockwork orange - the beatles

In Mick Jagger’s original pitch to buy, make, and star in this film, he claimed that “The Beatles are interested as well.” Hard to imagine the Fab Four contributing to such a dark film! Fortunately, the director John Schlesinger, who’d been considering collaborating with the Stones and The Beatles, decided against the idea.

Not So Into It

a clockwork orange - photo

Kubrick originally was uninterested in the project, not enjoying the book due to the Nadsat language. After revisiting the book, Kubrick changed his mind, imagining Alex as a Richard III type character – initially repellant but relatable due to his charm.

Conditional Creation

a clockwork orange - malcolm mcdowell

Director Stanley Kubrick allegedly wanted one actor only to play Alex – Malcolm McDowell. McDowell (who had no idea who Kubrick was) apparently had no audition, and it is said that had he not wanted to be in the film, it would have never been made. Kubrick had seen McDowell’s performance in “If..,”, where he played a rebellious teen and immediately imagined him playing the rebellious, violent, Alex.

One-Take Kubrick?

a clockwork orange - kubrick perfectionist

Stanley Kubrick, a notorious perfectionist, filmed the last scene in 74 takes. However, the scene where Patrick Magee is carried down the stairs in a wheelchair was completed in only three takes. Still, the actor and bodybuilder carrying the wheelchair was exhausted by the end of it. He famously asked Kubrick to go easy on him, saying, “You’re not exactly known as one-take Kubrick.”

Scripted Lines?

a clockwork orange - script

The movie so closely mirrors the book that the actors didn’t even use the script on set, carrying the book around as reference instead. Of all the movies that Kubrick adapted from book to film, this is the most similar to the book by far. In the above photos, you can even see a photo of the script, with notes Kubrick wrote on it!

A Happy Ending

a clockwork orange - lounge scene
The book had two versions – the British one, which has Alex renouncing his violent ways at the end, and the American one, which omitted that final chapter. Kubrick followed the American version, with the cynical ending where Alex remains unchanged.

North London Cockney

a clockwork orange - accent

Malcolm McDowell was born in Leeds, England, and his character, Alex, speaks in a language that is a cross between Russian and Cockney slang. However, his accent is distinctly North London. Kubrick felt like the combination of the violence that Alex displays and a gentle, refined accent, added to the intrigue of the character.

What a video…!

The scene where Malcolm McDowell is humming “Singing in the Rain” is famously entirely improvised. See him talk about it here. 

Watch Malcolm McDowell talk about the experience of working with Kubrick below!

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