15 Things You Might Not Know About A Clockwork Orange

Ready for a bit of the ol' ultra-violence? Here are a few things you should know about Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange.

1. KUBRICK ORIGINALLY DIDN'T WANT TO MAKE THE MOVIE.

The director first encountered Anthony Burgess' novel A Clockwork Orange when his Dr. Strangelove co-screenwriter Terry Southern gave him a copy on the set of that film. Southern enjoyed the biting black humor of the book, and thought Kubrick should consider adapting it into a movie. Kubrick allegedly didn't like the book upon first reading because of the Nadsat language Burgess created for the novel. The language, literally translated as the Russian word for "teen" and comprised of Russian and Cockney rhyming slang, confused the eventual director until he revisited the source material after his efforts to make a biopic about Napoleon fell through. Kubrick reportedly began to change his mind when he considered Alex as a Richard III-type character.

2. MALCOLM MCDOWELL WAS KUBRICK'S ONE AND ONLY CHOICE FOR ALEX.

Prior to Kubrick taking over the adaptation of A Clockwork Orange (Ken Russell and John Schlesinger were among the directors being considered), Mick Jagger was rumored to be up for the role of Alex, with other members of the Rolling Stones potentially playing Alex's droogs. But when Kubrick joined the project, he only wanted one man to play Alex: Malcolm McDowell. Kubrick had seen the actor in his debut film role in If...., which features similar anti-authoritarian themes and McDowell playing a rebellious and violent teen. McDowell never even had to audition—and if the actor had declined the role, Kubrick allegedly would have dropped the project altogether.

3. MCDOWELL HAD NO IDEA WHO KUBRICK WAS.

When offered the part, McDowell mistakenly thought the director was Stanley Kramer, the filmmaker behind movies like It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Judgment at Nuremberg. It wasn't until McDowell's friend and If.... director Lindsay Anderson showed him Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey that the actor realized who the director was.

4. KUBRICK'S SCREENPLAY CLOSELY MIRRORED THE BOOK.

Kubrick eventually warmed up to the book so much that his screenplay was mostly just dialogue and stage directions grafted from the book itself. A few early drafts of the screenplay actually changed the film's title to "The Ludovico Technique," named after the brainwashing experiment that Alex endures, but Kubrick later changed it back to the book's name. The director and actors hewed so closely to the book that sometimes they wouldn't even use the formal screenplay on set. Instead, they simply carried the novel as a reference for dialogue in the scenes.

The screenplay (and the movie) famously do not include a happy ending written and included in British versions of the book at the request of Burgess' publishers. That ending features Alex renouncing his violent past and promising to try to be a good man. Kubrick based his screenplay on the book's American version, which had the happy ending excised altogether.

5. THE MOVIE WAS PRIMARILY SHOT IN EXISTING LOCATIONS

Kubrick wanted to prove that he could make a low-budget movie after the expensive 2001, so he sought out existing locations. The only stipulation was that they had to be within driving distance from his house outside London. The most famous location was Alex's apartment block, which was shot at the Thamesmead Housing Estate in Southeast London, a housing project built in the late 1960s. The writer's "HOME" was three different locations: the road leading there was outside Munden House in Bricket Wood, Hertfordshire; the exterior was shot at a place called The Japanese Garden in Shipton-under-Wychwood in Oxfordshire; and the interior was The Skybreak House in Radlett, Hertfordshire (the art on the interior walls was all painted by Kubrick's wife, Christiane). 

The record shop scene was actually shot in the Chelsea Drugstore, a hip London bar frequented by the Rolling Stones and other celebrities in the late '60s and '70s (eagle-eyed viewers might spot the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey on the front of the desk).

6. BUT THERE ARE ALSO SOME SETS.

There are only three specific scenes that were built as sets: The Korovo Milk Bar, the prison's check-in area, and the bathroom where Alex takes a bath in the writer's HOME were built in an old factory in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire. Kubrick loved shooting there because it was the closest location to his house.

7. MCDOWELL'S LOVE OF CRICKET HELPED CREATE ALEX'S DROOG COSTUME.

Designer Milena Canonero sought to create a skewed near-future society with the costumes for A Clockwork Orange. But Kubrick and Canonero, who would go on to win an Academy Award for costume design on Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (plus additional Oscars for Chariots of Fire, Marie Antoinette, and The Grand Budapest Hotel) had trouble pinning down the look of Alex's costume. When McDowell, a cricket fan, came in for a costume fitting with his gear—including protective cup—Kubrick told him to keep them out and incorporate his white shirt and cup into the costume. When McDowell started to dress by putting the jockstrap under his pants, Kubrick told him it'd look better over his pants instead, and the look made it into the final movie.

8. ALEX'S "SINGIN' IN THE RAIN" WAS IMPROVISED.

McDowell came up with the idea for his character to sing the Gene Kelly classic. Kubrick thought the film's famously brutal scene, in which Alex and his droogs attack the writer and his wife, was playing flat during rehearsal. To adequately convey the violent nature of the scene and the sinister nature of the character, he asked McDowell to do something outrageous—like dance around. The actor began humming while dancing, then broke out into "Singin' In The Rain." McDowell would go on to say, "And why did I do that? Because [that song is] Hollywood's gift to the world of euphoria. And that's what the character is feeling at the time."

9. A REAL DOCTOR APPEARS IN THE LUDOVICO TECHNIQUE SCENE.

For the scene in which Alex is forced to watch horrific footage as aversion therapy, McDowell's eyes were kept open with antique lid locks used for delicate eye surgeries. The doctor administering eye drops was an actual doctor from Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. He was supposed to remain offscreen, but Kubrick eventually put him in the scene because McDowell would have been incapable of keeping his eyes open without the drops. 

10. MCDOWELL WAS INJURED ANYWAY.

Though his eyes were anesthetized, McDowell was forced to endure excruciating pain. The eye clamps were only supposed to be used for patients lying down, but Kubrick insisted that the character be sitting up watching footage for his rehabilitation. McDowell actually sliced his cornea during the scene, forcing the legendary perfectionist Kubrick to cut it short.

11. THE FAST-MOTION SEX SCENE TOOK 28 MINUTES TO SHOOT.

Kubrick chose to use fast-motion blur to film the sex scene between Alex and the two women from the record shop in order to ensure that it wouldn't be specifically cited by censors for sexually explicit content. The scene ended up contributing to the film's eventual X rating, not for explicit content, but because the censors feared the technique would be co-opted by actual pornographers who could speed up their films as a loophole to get their films passed by the ratings board.

12. DARTH VADER HAS A SMALL PART IN THE MOVIE.

The disabled writer's muscular aide in the film's third act is none other than David Prowse, the former bodybuilder and Mr. Universe contestant who would go on to occupy the Darth Vader suit in the original Star Wars trilogy.

The brawny Prowse initially protested the scene where he would have to carry the writer and his wheelchair around a corner and down to a dinner table in a single take. Kubrick had a tendency to do dozens of takes, and Prowse approached him, saying, "Your name is not one-take Kubrick is it, you see?" The crew fell silent and thought Prowse would immediately be fired, but Kubrick simply laughed the comment off and told him he'd be fine. They were able to get the shot in six takes.

13. PING PONG HELPED TRIM THE BUDGET.

McDowell recorded the film's voiceovers over two weeks of post-production sessions with Kubrick. To break up sessions that stretched on for hours, the pair would retreat to a ping pong table outside the recording studio to play a few games before heading back to work. Following the two weeks of sessions, McDowell's agent learned the actor was only paid for one week of work. Kubrick's explanation was that the one-week amount was for the work they did. The unpaid week had been spent playing ping pong.

14. KUBRICK PULLED THE MOVIE FROM UK THEATERS BECAUSE OF DEATH THREATS.

The press blamed the violent film for a series of alleged copycat break-ins and killings in the UK in the early 1970s, prompting calls for it to be banned. The film remained in theaters and available for distribution until an incident caused Kubrick to request that Warner Brothers pull the movie from UK cinemas.

While on the Ireland set of his next film, Barry Lyndon, Kubrick received death threats against him and his family. The perpetrators promised to break into their secluded house outside of London to carry out attacks just like Alex and his droogs do in the film. Distraught, Kubrick kept the studio from publicly showing the movie in the British Isles and Ireland until after his death in 1999.

15. IT GOT A BEST PICTURE NOD DESPITE ITS X RATING.

Despite all the controversy, A Clockwork Orange was never pulled from American theaters and was nominated for Best Picture and three other Oscars, including Best Director for Kubrick and Best Adapted Screenplay for his script. The film whiffed on all four categories at the ceremony, but it still earned a place in history. Along with Midnight Cowboy, which won Best Picture in 1970, it's one of only two X-rated films to be nominated for the Oscars' top prize.

Amazon's Best Cyber Monday Deals on Tablets, Wireless Headphones, Kitchen Appliances, and More

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Amazon

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10 Surprising Facts About Richard Pryor

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Richard Pryor, who was born on December 1, 1940, is considered by many to be the greatest stand-up comedian of all time. Jerry Seinfeld referred to him as “the Picasso of our profession.” Chris Rock has called him comedy’s Rosa Parks. Yet the indelible mark Pryor made on the world of comedy only tells part of his story.

Like his career in the spotlight, Pryor’s world offstage was also highly compelling and full of shocking turns. He’s one of those people whose real life was so off-the-wall at times that it becomes tough to separate fact from fiction. Here are just a few stories about the brilliant and chaotic life of the great Richard Pryor.

1. Richard Pryor had a tragic childhood.

Richard Pryor had a tragic early life, experiencing things that no child should have to endure: Born to a prostitute named Gertrude on December 1, 1940 in Peoria, Illinois, Pryor’s father was a notoriously violent pimp named LeRoy Pryor. For much of his childhood, Pryor was raised in the actual brothel where his mother worked, which was owned by his own no-nonsense grandmother, Marie Carter. With his mother periodically dropping out of his life for long stretches, it was Marie who served as Pryor’s central guardian and caretaker.

In 2015, The New Yorker published an article to mark the 10th anniversary of Pryor’s passing, which offered further details on his turbulent early life, noting:

Pryor said that one of the reasons he adored movies as a boy was that you were never in doubt as to why the women in them were screaming. As for the sounds that Richard heard in the middle of the night in his room on the top floor of one of Marie’s businesses, he had no idea what was happening to those girls. A number of times, he saw his mother, Gertrude, one of the women in Marie’s employ, nearly beaten to death by his father. Gertrude left when Richard was five. He later registered no resentment over this. “At least Gertrude didn’t flush me down the toilet,” he said. (This was not a joke. As a child, Pryor opened a shoebox and found a dead baby inside.)

2. Richard Pryor walked away from a successful career.

Early in his career Pryor found success by modeling his comedy largely on the work on Bill Cosby, which led to many comparisons being drawn between the two—a fact that Cosby reportedly grew to dislike.

There are conflicting tales of just how Pryor made the 180-degree change in style that led to him becoming a comedic legend. One of the most well traveled tales, and one that Pryor himself confirmed on more than one occasion, states that Pryor was performing his clean-cut act in Las Vegas one night when he looked out into the audience and saw Dean Martin among the crowd. If you believe the story, seeing the legendarily cool Rat Packer’s face made Pryor question what exactly he was doing and caused him to abruptly leave the stage mid-performance. Around this time Pryor moved to the San Francisco Bay area, dropped out of the comedy limelight for several years, and later reemerged with the more pointed, in-your-face style that made him an icon.

3. Richard Pryor won an Emmy for writing.

Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, and Richard Pryor in Tomlin's 1973 TV special, Lily.CBS Television, Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

Though Pryor was better known for his work in front of the camera than behind it, the only Emmy he ever won was for writing. In 1974, Pryor won the Emmy for Best Writing in Comedy for Lily, a comedy special starring Lily Tomlin (in which he also appeared). He earned a total of four nominations throughout his career, two of them as an actor and the other two as a writer.

4. Richard Pryor made Lorne Michaels quit Saturday Night Live.

Back in 1975, Saturday Night Live was brand new, so at the time the show’s creator, Lorne Michaels, wasn’t yet a powerful TV icon. Therefore, when Michaels stuck his neck out and demanded the right to have Pryor on as a guest host, he was really risking a lot. It took Michaels handing in a fake resignation to convince NBC executives to allow the famously foulmouthed comic to appear. Michaels himself had to implement a secret five-second delay for that night’s episode to be sure that any off-the-cuff, unscripted choice language didn’t make its way out over the airwaves. The delay was kept from Pryor who, upon later finding out, confirmed that he would have refused to do the show had he known about it

The episode, the seventh one of SNL’s premiere season, contained one of the most memorable and edgy sketches ever to appear on the show: (the NSFW) Word Association. Chevy Chase and Pryor’s personal writer, Paul Mooney, have each claimed to have written the sketch.

5. Richard Pryor lost the starring role in Blazing Saddles.

Pryor and Gene Wilder made four films together (Silver Streak; Stir Crazy; See No Evil, Hear No Evil; and Another You), but there could have been at least one more. Pryor was one of the credited writers on Mel Brooks’s classic Blazing Saddles and the plan for a time was that he would also co-star in the film, playing Sheriff Bart alongside Wilder as the Waco Kid. In the clip above, Wilder explained how Pryor’s infamous drug use caused him to end up in a remote city and subsequently lose the starring role to Cleavon Little.

6. It wasn’t a drug mishap that caused Richard Pryor to set himself on fire.

One of the most retold stories about Pryor centers around the incident on June 9, 1980 where he set himself on fire and took off running down a Los Angeles street fully engulfed in flames. Though he wasn’t expected to survive the episode, he eventually pulled through and spent the next six weeks recuperating in the hospital. At the time it was often reported that the cause of the accident was Pryor freebasing cocaine. Pryor later admitted that in a drug-fueled psychosis he had actually attempted to kill himself by dousing his body in 151-proof rum and setting himself ablaze. A friend of Pryor’s at the time has gone on record as saying that the idea for the act likely came about that evening after the two of them watched footage of Thích Quảng Đức, the Vietnamese monk who famously burned himself to death in 1963 as an act of protest.

7. Richard Pryor was married seven times.

Pryor was married seven times—to five different women. In the 2013 documentary Omit the Logic, a friend of Pryor’s—who served as the best man at one of his weddings—recounts how Pryor showed up at his hotel room door just a few hours after marrying Jennifer Lee, insisting that he already wanted a divorce. Pryor would get divorced from Lee the next year, only to remarry her 19 years later; the two were still together when Pryor passed away in 2005.

8. Richard Pryor had a soft spot for animals.

In 1986 Pryor was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a central nervous system disease that ultimately left him confined to a wheelchair. Pryor was such an avid supporter of animal rights, however, that he actively spoke out against animal testing of any kind—even when that testing meant getting closer to a cure for his own condition. The biography on RichardPryor.com provides more insight into this part of his private life:

He's been honored by PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, for saving baby elephants in Botswana targeted for circuses. In 2000, as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was preparing to open at Madison Square Garden, Pryor gave the Big Top's first African-American ringmaster, Jonathan Lee Iverson, something to think about when he wrote him a letter in which he stated: “While I am hardly one to complain about a young African American making an honest living, I urge you to ask yourself just how honorable it is to preside over the abuse and suffering of animals."

9. Richard Pryor won the first Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Beginning in 1998, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts began awarding its annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which "recognizes individuals who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th-century novelist and essayist Samuel Clemens, best known as Mark Twain." Pryor was chosen as their very first recipient. In the more than 20 years since, he has been joined by an illustrious group of comedy legends, including Carl Reiner, Bob Newhart, George Carlin, Steve Martin, Carol Burnett, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Dave Chappelle.

10. Despite his deteriorating health, Richard Pryor never stopped performing.

Even while MS continued to rob him of his mobility, Pryor’s comedic mind continued cranking. Throughout the early 1990s Pryor would often show up at Los Angeles’s famous standup club The Comedy Store to take to the stage in his wheelchair. In the above clip from The Joe Rogan Experience, a few comics discuss what it was like to watch the all-time great perform in his diminished state.

This story has been updated for 2020.