A lot of people know Don’t Look Now for one thing and one thing only: the sex scene. But there’s a lot more to the 1973 horror film than salacious Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie gossip. Director Nicolas Roeg’s haunting exploration of grief manages to be terrifying with a simple red coat, repeatedly seen darting through the foggy streets of Venice. Here’s some trivia on how Roeg committed this nightmare to film—and the truth behind that notorious sex scene.
1. JULIE CHRISTIE ATTENDED A SEANCE TO PREPARE.
In the movie, Julie Christie’s Laura Baxter participates in a seance with two mysterious sisters in order to contact her dead daughter, Christine. Director Nicolas Roeg wanted his actress to have a better understanding of clairvoyance, so he brought her to an actual seance. It was supposedly conducted by renowned British medium Leslie Flint, who at one point instructed the group to “uncross your legs.” Roeg used this bit in the scene.
2. THE HOUSE BELONGED TO A CAST MEMBER.
The Baxters’ home, where Christine drowns in the film’s opening scene, wasn’t a random scouting find. It was actor David Tree’s real house. He appears briefly in the movie as Anthony Babbage, the headmaster at the Baxters’ son’s boarding school. It was Tree’s first role in over 30 years; it was also his last.
3. CHRISTINE DOESN’T DROWN IN THE NOVELLA.
Don’t Look Now is based on Daphne du Maurier’s short story of the same name. But in du Maurier’s version, Christine dies of meningitis. The drowning was the movie’s invention.
4. IT WAS ALMOST RATED X.
Roeg decided to add a sex scene at the last minute, because he was concerned that audiences would only see John and Laura Baxter fighting. But his last-minute addition would soon become tabloid fodder. Despite repeated denials from Donald Sutherland and producer Peter Katz, for years people have suggested that the sex scene was real. (Former Variety editor-in-chief Peter Bart even made the claim in his book, and further insisted that Christie’s long-time boyfriend Warren Beatty demanded the scene be cut.) The scene’s authenticity proved to be a problem for the censors, too. Roeg ended up cutting nine frames from the final print to avoid a dreaded X rating for the U.S. release. It didn’t fare as well with international rating boards, though.
5. IRISH CENSORS CUT THE SEX SCENE ENTIRELY.
When the film opened in Ireland, the sex scene was removed completely. Considering the Irish censors’ previous calls, however, this was hardly surprising. As The Independent recalled, the censor’s office also infamously cut the scene where Shirley MacLaine confesses her love to Audrey Hepburn’s character in The Children’s Hour due to its affront on Catholic morals.
6. THE SCREENWRITER WAS ALSO A SCOTCH EXECUTIVE.
Chris Bryant and Allan Scott wrote the screenplay for Don’t Look Now—or rather, Chris Bryant and Allan Shiach did. Shiach used a pen name when he wasn’t at his regular job at The Macallan distillery. Being part of the top brass at the scotch company, he was especially pleased to see a bottle of The Macallan appear on the bedside table during the movie’s sex scene.
7. THE DIRECTOR FOUND HIS COMPOSER ON A WATER TAXI.
Roeg stumbled upon his Don’t Look Now composer when he ran into producer Ugo Mariotti on one of Venice’s many water taxis. Mariotti was with Pino Donaggio, a budding composer who was known for his song “lo Che Non Vivo (Senza Te),” a.k.a. the basis for the hit Dusty Springfield song, “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” Roeg took their meeting as a sign and insisted that Donaggio score his film, despite his inexperience. The gamble paid off for both men. Roeg got his music and Donaggio would go on to score hundreds of movies, including Carrie (1976) and Blow Out (1981).
8. DONALD SUTHERLAND DID HIS OWN STUNT—AND NEARLY DIED.
While John is doing restoration work inside a Venetian chapel, an accident occurs that forces him to dangle from a rope. A stuntman was supposed to stand in for Sutherland in this scene, but he refused. So Sutherland agreed to do it himself, and only later discovered the true danger of the situation. As The Criterion Collection noted, the wire holding him was not at all stable and could’ve snapped at any second.
9. IT WAS ON A DOUBLE BILL WITH THE WICKER MAN.
When Don’t Look Now hit theaters in 1973, UK audiences could see it as a double bill with another horror classic, The Wicker Man. (No, not the Nicolas Cage one.) Don’t Look Now was the main feature, while The Wicker Man was cut down and billed as the B movie.
10. THE INTERNATIONAL TITLES WERE CLUNKY.
In Italy, Don’t Look Now was released as A Venezia … un dicembre rosso shocking, which means, “In Venice … a Shocking Red December.” Think that’s weird? In Germany, Don’t Look Now was called Wenn die Gondeln Trauer tragen, which translates to “When the Gondolas Wear Grief.”
11. BIG AUDIO DYNAMITE WROTE A SONG ABOUT IT.
The Brit band Big Audio Dynamite released a song in 1985 that was essentially a big gushing love letter to Roeg. (It was also the first UK rock hit to use sampling.) “E=MC2” featured audio clips from and explicit references to several of the director’s films, including the lyric, “Met a dwarf that was no good, dressed like little Red Riding Hood.” The music video also incorporated scenes from Roeg films, including John’s confrontation with the red hooded figure from Don’t Look Now.