“A Clockwork Orange” is a brilliant nightmare. Stanley Kubrick’s latest film takes the heavy realities of the ‘do-your-thing’ and ‘law-and-order’ syndromes, runs them through a cinematic centrifuge, and spews forth the commingled comic horrors of a regulated society. Uncomfortably proximate, disturbingly plausible and obliquely resolved, the film employs outrageous vulgarity, stark brutality and some sophisticated comedy to make an opaque argument for the preservation of respect for man’s free will – even to do wrong.
The domestic X-rating will preclude attendance by many who would appreciate the Warners Bros. release. There remains a broad audience potential of diverse and contradictory attitudes, each of which can probably find perverse solace.
In his fourth film in a decade, and the ninth in 19 years, Kubrick certainly is back from outer space. More than that, he has penetrated the relatively high level of multi-national madness found in “Doctor Strangelove” and landed right in the urban jungle. His screenplay, based on the 1962 Anthony Burgess novel, postulates a society composed of amoral young hedonists, an older generation in retreat behind locked doors, and a political-police government no longer accountable to anyone or to any principles except expediency and tenure.
John Barry’s outstanding production design, Milena Canonero’s superb costume design, Ron Beck’s excellent wardrobe supervision, and the dazzling art direction of Russell Hagg and Peter Shields provide a memorable picture of this society. Functional urban apartment houses and ultra-mod suburban homes, debris-littered streets and halls, psychedelic discotheques, and lavish record shops for the kids. The atmosphere is predominantly erotic.
In this world where, like the Viet Cong, youthful gangs control the street by night and disperse by dawn, lives anti-hero and narrator Malcolm McDowell and his sidekicks – Warren Clarke, James Marcus, and Michael Tarn, they have an Orwellian argot not difficult to grasp. Their escapades include the beating of derelict Paul Farrell, Richard Connaught and his gang, and writer Patrick Magee; the raping of Magee’s wife Adrienne Corri; and the bizarre murder of Miriam Karlin.
To round out the expository sequences which occupy nearly one third of the film’s 137-minute length, there is an effectively alienated domestic scene between McDowell and his parents, Philip Stone and Sheila Raynor, and a hilarious, fast-motion bedroom romp (to the “William Tell overture”) with casual pickups Gillian Hills and Barbara Scott.
Miss Karlin’s murder sends McDowell to prison, where chief guard Michael Bates rules with military precision while chaplain Godfrey Quigley, among his prototype hellfire preachings, utters the kernel of positive thought: the essence of a man’s nature is free will, to do good or evil, and you can’t have one without the other. In the Western World, this Judean-Christian concept is represented as fundamental if also paradoxical.
Anthony Sharp, urbane Minister of The Interior, selects McDowell for psychotherapy at the hands of Carl Duering. The treatment, by which McDowell becomes physically and mentally nauseous when confronted with wrong-doing or sin, these of course can be varied to suit the demands of the authorities, is considered necessary in order to clear prisons of criminals in order to make room for political prisoners.
The final third of the film depicts the effects of the treatment. McDowell is rebuffed by his parents (they’ve taken in a loving border, Clive Francis); a tramp and other bums beat him up; two of his old buddies are now policemen (in this society, only clothing distinguishes those who employ identical methods); and Magee, now a widower and a “subversive” along with John Savident and Margaret Tyzack, wreaks his vengeance. But Sharp, in political anger, patches up McDowell’s future.
Or does he? The resolution is ambiguous to say the least. Is McDowell at last the subdued ‘Orange’ that runs like ‘Clockwork,’ or has human nature begun to heal itself?
Underscoring the 18 sequences are various classical musical excerpts, especially Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, plus effective electronic music by Walter Carlos. For the end-title music Kubrick again employs a nostalgia item. Closing “Doctor Strangelove” was Vera Lynn’s World War II record of “We’ll Meet Again.” Here we get Gene Kelly singing the soundtrack title tune from Metro’s “Singing in the Rain.” Though of lesser impact than the earlier usage, the effect is still the same: does one laugh, or cry, or both?
John Alcott’s camera supervision is outstanding, and the color processing on early-arrival prints was executed handsomely by Rank’s Denham Lab. Domestic prints may be struck by MGM’s lab, per a production exec.
Editor Bill Butler, sound recordist John Jordan, stunt coordinator Ray Scammell and the entire cast and crew are excellent, under Kubrick’s masterful hand. Due to some intramural activity not yet public, the names of executive producers Max L. Rabb and Si Litvinoff did not appear, at Kubrick’s direction, on otherwise complete credit sheets, though they appear both on the print and in advertising.
1971: Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Editing