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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.

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25 Wonderful Facts About It’s a Wonderful Life
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Paramount Pictures

Mary Owen wasn’t welcomed into the world until more than a decade after Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life made its premiere in 1946. But she grew up cherishing the film and getting the inside scoop on its making from its star, Donna Reed—who just so happens to be her mom. Though Reed passed away in 1986, Owen has stood as one of the film’s most dedicated historians, regularly introducing screenings of the ultimate holiday classic, including during its annual run at New York City’s IFC Center. She shared some of her mom’s memories with us to help reveal 25 things you might not have known about It’s a Wonderful Life.

1. IT ALL BEGAN WITH A CHRISTMAS CARD.

After years of unsuccessfully trying to shop his short story, The Greatest Gift, to publishers, Philip Van Doren Stern decided to give the gift of words to his closest friends for the holidays when he printed up 200 copies of the story and sent them out as a 21-page Christmas card. David Hempstead, a producer at RKO Pictures, ended up getting a hold of it, and purchased the movie rights for $10,000.

2. CARY GRANT WAS SET TO STAR IN THE ADAPTATION.

When RKO purchased the rights, they did so with the plan of having Cary Grant in the lead. But, as happens so often in Hollywood, the project went through some ups and downs in the development process. In 1945, after a number of rewrites, RKO sold the movie rights to Frank Capra, who quickly recruited Jimmy Stewart to play George Bailey.

3. DOROTHY PARKER WORKED ON THE SCRIPT.


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By the time It’s a Wonderful Life made it into theaters, the story was much different from Stern’s original tale. That’s because more than a half-dozen people contributed to the screenplay, including some of the most acclaimed writers of the time—Dorothy Parker, Dalton Trumbo, Marc Connelly, and Clifford Odets among them.

4. SCREENWRITERS FRANCES GOODRICH AND ALBERT HACKETT WALKED OUT.

Though they’re credited as the film’s screenwriters with Capra, the husband and wife writing duo were not pleased with the treatment they received from Capra. “Frank Capra could be condescending,” Hackett said in an interview, “and you just didn't address Frances as ‘my dear woman.’ When we were pretty far along in the script but not done, our agent called and said, ‘Capra wants to know how soon you'll be finished.’ Frances said, ‘We're finished right now.’ We put our pens down and never went back to it.”

5. CAPRA DIDN’T DO THE BEST JOB OF SELLING THE FILM TO STEWART.

After laying out the plot line of the film for Stewart in a meeting, Capra realized that, “This really doesn’t sound so good, does it?” Stewart recalled in an interview. Stewart’s reply? “Frank: If you want me to be in a picture about a guy that wants to kill himself and an angel comes down named Clarence who can’t swim and I save him, when do we start?”

6. IT WAS DONNA REED’S FIRST STARRING ROLE.


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Though Donna Reed was hardly a newcomer when It’s a Wonderful Life rolled around, having appeared in nearly 20 projects previously, the film did mark her first starring role. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role today, but Reed had some serious competition from Jean Arthur. “[Frank Capra] had seen mom in They Were Expendable and liked her,” Mary Owen told Mental Floss. “When Capra met my mother at MGM, he knew she'd be just right for Mary Bailey.”

7. MARY OWEN IS NOT NAMED AFTER MARY BAILEY.

Before you ask whether Owen was named after her mom’s much beloved It’s a Wonderful Life character, “The answer is no,” says Owen. “I was named after my great grandmother, Mary Mullenger.”

8. BEULAH BONDI WAS A PRO AT PLAYING STEWART’S MOM.

Beulah Bondi, who plays Mrs. Bailey, didn’t need a lot of rehearsal to play Jimmy Stewart’s mom. She had done it three times previously—in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Of Human Hearts, and Vivacious Lady—and once later on The Jimmy Stewart Show: The Identity Crisis.

9. CAPRA, REED, AND STEWART HAVE ALL CALLED IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE THEIR FAVORITE MOVIE.


Liberty Films

Though their collective filmographies consist of a couple hundred movies, Capra, Reed, and Stewart have all cited It’s a Wonderful Life as their favorite movie. In his autobiography, The Name Above the Title, Capra took that praise even one step further, writing: “I thought it was the greatest film I ever made. Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made.”

10. THE MOVIE BOMBED AT THE BOX OFFICE.

Though it has become a quintessential American classic, It’s a Wonderful Life was not an immediate hit with audiences. In fact, it put Capra $525,000 in the hole, which left him scrambling to finance his production company’s next picture, State of the Union.

11. A COPYRIGHT LAPSE AIDED THE FILM’S POPULARITY.

Though it didn’t make much of a dent at the box office, It’s a Wonderful Life found a whole new life on television—particularly when its copyright lapsed in 1974, making it available royalty-free to anyone who wanted to show it for the next 20 years. (Which would explain why it was on television all the time during the holiday season.) The free-for-all ended in 1994.

12. THE ROCK THAT BROKE THE WINDOW OF THE GRANVILLE HOUSE WAS ALL REAL.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

Though Capra had a stuntman at the ready in order to shoot out the window of the Granville House in a scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock through it, it was all a waste of money. “Mom threw the rock herself that broke the window in the Granville House,” Owen says. “On the first try.”

13. IT TOOK TWO MONTHS TO BUILD BEDFORD FALLS.

Shot on a budget of $3.7 million (which was a lot by mid-1940s standards), Bedford Falls—which covered a full four acres of RKO’s Encino Ranch—was one of the most elaborate movie sets ever built up to that time, with 75 stores and buildings, 20 fully-grown oak trees, factories, residential areas, and a 300-yard-long Main Street.

14. SENECA FALLS, NEW YORK IS “THE REAL BEDFORD FALLS.”

Though Bedford Falls is a fictitious place, the town of Seneca Falls, New York swears that it's the real-life inspiration for George Bailey’s charming hometown. And each year they program a full lineup of holiday-themed events to put locals (and yuletide visitors) into the holiday spirit.

15. THE GYM FLOOR-TURNED-SWIMMING POOL WAS REAL.

Though the bulk of the film was filmed on pre-built sets, the dance at the gym was filmed on location at Beverly Hills High School. And the retractable floor was no set piece. Better known as the Swim Gym, the school is currently in the process of restoring the landmark filming location.

16. ALFALFA IS THE TEENAGER BEHIND THAT SWIMMING POOL PRANK.

Though he’s uncredited in the part, if Freddie Othello—the little prankster who pushes the button that opens the pool that swallows George and Mary up—looks familiar, that’s because he is played by Carl Switzer, a.k.a. Alfalfa of The Little Rascals.

17. DONNA REED WON $50 FROM LIONEL BARRYMORE ... FOR MILKING A COW.

Though she was a Hollywood icon, Donna Reed—born Donnabelle Mullenger—was a farm girl at heart who came to Los Angeles by way of Denison, Iowa. Lionel Barrymore (a.k.a. Mr. Potter) didn’t believe it. “So he bet $50 that she couldn't milk a cow,” recalls Owen. “She said it was the easiest $50 she ever made.”

18. THE FILM WAS SHOT DURING A HEAT WAVE.

It may be an iconic Christmas movie, but It’s a Wonderful Life was actually shot in the summer of 1946—in the midst of a heat wave, no less. At one point, Capra had to shut filming down for a day because of the sky-high temperatures—which also explains why Stewart is clearly sweating in key moments of the film.

19. CAPRA ENGINEERED A NEW KIND OF MOVIE SNOW.

Capra—who trained as an engineer—and special effects supervisor Russell Shearman engineered a new type of artificial snow for the film. At the time, painted cornflakes were the most common form of fake snow, but they posed a bit of an audio problem for Capra. So he and Shearman opted to mix foamite (the stuff you find in fire extinguishers) with sugar and water to create a less noisy option.

20. THE MOVIE WASN’T REQUIRED VIEWING IN REED’S HOUSEHOLD.

Though It’s a Wonderful Life is a staple of many family holiday movie marathons, that wasn’t the case in Reed’s home. In fact, Owen herself didn’t see the film until three decades after its release. “I saw it in the late 1970s at the Nuart Theatre in L.A. and loved it,” she says.

21. ZUZU DIDN’T SEE THE FILM UNTIL 1980.

Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu in the film, didn’t see the film until 1980. “I never took the time to see the movie,” she told Detroit’s WWJ in 2013. “I never just sat down and watched the film.”

22. THE FBI SAW THE FILM. THEY DIDN’T LIKE IT.

In 1947, the FBI issued a memo noting the film as a potential “Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry,” citing its “rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘Scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.”

23. THE MOVIE’S BERT AND ERNIE HAVE NO RELATION TO SESAME STREET.

Yes, the cop and cab driver in It’s a Wonderful Life are named Bert and Ernie, respectively. But Jim Henson’s longtime writing partner, Jerry Juhl, insists that it’s by coincidence only that they share their names with Sesame Street’s stripe-shirted buds. “I was the head writer for the Muppets for 36 years and one of the original writers on Sesame Street,” Juhl told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000. “The rumor about It's a Wonderful Life has persisted over the years. I was not present at the naming, but I was always positive [the rumor] was incorrect. Despite his many talents, Jim had no memory for details like this. He knew the movie, of course, but would not have remembered the cop and the cab driver. I was not able to confirm this with Jim before he died, but shortly thereafter I spoke to Jon Stone, Sesame Street's first producer and head writer and a man largely responsible for the show's format … He assured me that Ernie and Bert were named one day when he and Jim were studying the prototype puppets. They decided that one of them looked like an Ernie, and the other one looked like a Bert. The movie character names are purely coincidental.”

24. SOME PEOPLE ARE ANXIOUS FOR A SEQUEL.

Well, two people: Producers Allen J. Schwalb and Bob Farnsworth, who announced in 2013 that they would be continuing the story with a sequel, It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story, which they planned for a 2015 release. It didn’t take long for Paramount, which owns the copyright, to step in and assure furious fans of the original film that “No project relating to It’s a Wonderful Life can proceed without a license from Paramount. To date, these individuals have not obtained any of the necessary rights, and we would take all appropriate steps to protect those rights.”

25. THE FILM’S ENDURING LEGACY WAS SURPRISING TO CAPRA.

“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen," Capra said of the film’s classic status. "The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud… but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

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Listen to What Darth Vader Sounded Like On the Star Wars Set
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The voice of Darth Vader, provided by James Earl Jones, is one of the most iconic aspects of the original Star Wars movies. But James Earl Jones wasn't the actor wearing that outfit—it was British actor David Prowse, who was cast in part because he was huge (reportedly 6'5" and a former body-building champion).

George Lucas always intended to replace Prowse's voice, but it's still a bit of a shock to hear a muffled British voice coming out of Darth Vader's helmet. Here's video showing what Darth Vader sounded like on the set before James Earl Jones re-recorded the dialogue.

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