“A Clockwork Orange” is a truly bizarre choice for a venerated film many consider one of the best ever. It’s incredibly dark and grim, but it isn’t a “based on a true story” movie that feels like eating your vegetables like “Schindler’s List.” No, it’s a depraved film based on an even more depraved book. Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” is graphic, bizarre, visually arresting, and…possibly a comedy? There is no movie quite like it. Here are 20 facts about this one-of-a-kind (for better or worse) film.
Anthony Burgess is the one who came up with the story for “A Clockwork Orange.” He wrote the 1962 novel that the film is based on, and it was one of dozens of books the British author wrote in his career. That being said, none of his other books are terribly famous. On top of that, Burgess has said that Kubrick’s adaptation of his novel is what made his book successful.
“A Clockwork Orange” is an unusual title, to be sure. What does it mean? Well, nothing concrete, to be sure. Burgess used to say that it was part of a Cockney expression he remembered hearing back in the ‘40s, “Queer as a clockwork orange.” Back when the word “queer” was primarily a synonym of “strange,” the phrase “queer as a…” followed by an odd thing was quite common. Over time, though, Burgess would give several different meanings to the name, but they are all dubious. One, for example, says it’s a play on the Malay word “orang,” which means “man.” That’s in spite of the fact there are no other Malay words in the novel at all.
Alex and his “droogs” speak in an unusual slang language called “Nadsat.” It’s not real slang but is instead an invention of Burgess. Although, he didn’t come up with it out of thin air like a J.R.R. Tolkien or George R.R. Martin. Instead, it’s mostly a mix of Slavic, Russian, and British rhyming slang.
Soon after his book was published Burgess sold the film rights to “A Clockwork Orange” for a mere $500. At the time, Kubrick wasn’t attached to the project at all. Instead, Ken Russell was supposed to direct and the Rolling Stones was to star, with Mick Jagger as Alex. That production had trouble getting the go-ahead from the British Board of Film Certification due to the content of the novel and fell through.
Terry Southern, who co-wrote “Dr. Strangelove,” gave Kubrick a copy of the novel thinking he would like it. At the time, Kubrick was focused on trying to bring his dream project – a Napoleon biopic that he spent years on but never got to make – to life. As such, he didn’t bother reading the book. Instead, his wife read it, and then she prompted Kubrick to read it. After doing so, he secured the rights and got to work on a screenplay.
There was one issue that Burgess had with the adaptation of his novel by Kubrick. Namely, the fact it did not include anything from the final chapter of the book, which sees Alex “cured” but feeling less taste for violence and considering giving up a life of “ultraviolence” to become a productive member of society. This chapter was not included in the U.S. version of the book, where the editor at his publisher opted for a darker ending. Kubrick used this version for his adaptation, and upon finally reading the last chapter declared it an “extra” chapter that wasn’t necessary.
Kubrick made a few alterations to the novel “A Clockwork Orange” for his film. They ranged from banal things like Alex not having a snake to removing acts of such depraved violence they could not be included in a movie. On top of that, Kubrick gave Alex a last name (he had none in the book) and also aged him up from 15 to 17 or 18. Because a slightly older teenager committing unspeakable crimes is totally palatable.
There’s not a lot of talk of alternate casting choice for “A Clockwork Orange,” and Kubrick seemed like he had Malcolm McDowell in mind right away. The director had seen McDowell in “If…,” another violent social satire, and decided he was perfect for Alex.
In addition to starring in the film, McDowell is the one who influenced the clothing that Alex and his droogs wear. McDowell showed Kubrick his cricket uniform, and Kubrick liked it, only suggesting they wear their jockstraps on the outside. Purportedly, McDowell also improvised Alex crooning “Singin’ in the Rain,” thereby ruining that song for generations.
If you are a major movie buff, you might recognize some of the other actors in “A Clockwork Orange.” For most, though, they are largely unknown, at least in America, outside McDowell. However, you assuredly recognize David Prowse, who plays the manservant Julian. Although, you might not recognize his face. That’s because Prowse is best known for being the man in the Darth Vader suit in the original “Star Wars” trilogy.
Kubrick was known for his lengthy, meticulous shooting process and being hard on actors. Poor Shelley Duvall can speak to that. McDowell succinctly said of Kubrick that “He likes total control.” However, things seemed to go relatively smoothly and filming only lasted from September 1970 through April 1971. It was the quickest shoot of his career.
Even if you haven’t seen “A Clockwork Orange” you have surely seen parodies of the scene involving the “Ludovico technique.” It’s the scene in which Alex’s eyes are pried open to show him a film designed to make sex and violence nauseating to him. The man standing next to Alex and putting eye drops in his eyes? That was an actual doctor putting actual drops in McDowell’s eyes to keep them from drying out. Unfortunately, McDowell suffered a scratched cornea during that scene. Later in the film, he would also crack some ribs.
Kubrick loved to shoot in his native England. This is a man who would eventually shoot a Vietnam War movie in England, even if that meant bringing in 100,000 plastic tropical trees from Hong Kong. “A Clockwork Orange” was shot on location all over London. Only a handful of scenes were shot on set, such as the Korova Milk Bar. A place that insane didn’t exist in real life.
Kubrick’s film is graphic in all the ways a film can be, and that earned it an X rating in the United States upon original release. The director would end up tweaking 30 seconds of sexually explicit content in order to get that knocked down to an R rating in 1972, the year it was released wide (it was given a debut in 1971 in New York in order to be eligible for that year’s Oscars). Meanwhile, the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures straight-up rated it “condemned,” which prohibited Roman Catholics from seeing it.
The United Kingdom gave the go-ahead to “A Clockwork Orange” to be released in theaters, and it was in theaters for a little while. However, it was not without controversy. Quickly, any act of violence being committed by a teenager was connected to the film, either in court or in public opinion. This led to a furor against Kubrick himself. While Kubrick refuted the idea his movie was responsible for people committed violent acts, he requested his film to be withdrawn from release in 1973. It was basically impossible to see “A Clockwork Orange” in Britain until 1999 when Kubrick died and it was finally made available on VHS and DVD.
Banning “A Clockwork Orange” proved pretty popular. Brazil banned it until a military dictatorship came to an end in 1978. South Africa, in the time of apartheid, banned it, and it did not come out there until 1984. South Korea and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Nova Scotia banned it for a while. Ireland actually banned it all the way until the year 2000. Lastly, Singapore banned “A Clockwork Orange” all the way until 2011.
Tell people something is bad for them, and some of those people are only going to be more intrigued. “A Clockwork Orange” cost a mere $1.3 million to make but made a whopping $114 million worldwide. In fact, it was the most popular movie in France in 1972. Hey, we aren’t saying we liked the bans, but we’re also wondering why France was so enthused to see this movie.
Kubrick picked up three Oscar nominations himself for “A Clockwork Orange,” getting looks for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture. Editor Bill Butler also got a nomination. The movie didn’t win for any of those categories, though. Instead, “The French Connection” took all four of those categories.
There is a lot that’s weird to wrap your head around with “Space Jam: A New Legacy.” The movie is something of a fiasco, though a successful one, it’s also an excuse to make use of the Warner Bros. catalog. A ton of characters make appearances in “A New Legacy” from Warner Bros. films. Among those characters you see in the background are Alex and the droogs in their unmistakable outfits. Perfect for a PG movie.
“A Clockwork Orange” is violent and sexually explicit. It also often plays like a comedy. What’s the deal with this film? Well, Kubrick is not one of those filmmakers who is shy about explaining his intent or his feelings on his films. Writing for the “Saturday Review” back in the day, Kubrick described his film as such, “A social satire dealing with the question of whether behavioral psychology and psychological conditioning are dangerous new weapons for a totalitarian government to use to impose vast controls on its citizens and turn them into little more than robots.” So yes, according to Kubrick this is a comedy.