‘I was Lindsay Anderson’s kind of actor. I don’t know why, but I was. I know he thought that I was a Brechtian (whatever that means) but I don’t think I am. I think what he meant was that I play in a style that is not realistic, but which is still real. I met him at the audition for If . . . in 1967. We got on very well, but it was the second audition that was magical because it involved me getting a slap from this girl I was playing opposite. She slapped me into getting the part – and subsequently into doing Clockwork Orange, because Kubrick saw If … five times and cast me from that.
‘The slap was part of a scene we were doing that I had not really prepared, but which she knew rather better than I did. When I read the script, it said: “Mick grabs hold of girl and kisses her passionately.” But I did not read the following line, which said: “The girl slaps Mick like a son of a bitch.” Which was exactly what she did – although in reality it was more of a punch. And I wasn’t expecting it. That hit changed the whole dynamic of the audition.
‘Afterwards, when I was working on the original script for what became O Lucky Man!, I didn’t know how to end the film, and I was also still obsessed with this slap. Lindsay just said, “Good, well we’ll use it. You became a film star, so that’s how you end it, with that slap.” So, at the end of O Lucky Man!, as my character does an audition, just like the one for If … , the director, played by Lindsay, hits me with the script. Later, I found a whole bit in his diary about that slap scene, in which Lindsay says of his own performance: “Am I good? I think so. Malcolm wore too much makeup.”
‘Lindsay was an incredible man. When Lindsay walked into a room, it sort of gravitated around him somehow, partly because of who he was, and partly because of his own presence. His voice was rather clipped. “Now, now, Malcolm,” he would say. “Come on, stop messing around. Good.” He was a brilliant intellect and very generous with his time, just a delightful person to be around. I was young and I didn’t know much about anything, so he was very important to me and we had a great friendship. He was someone you really could call at four in the morning and say, ‘I’m in trouble. I need help.’ ”
‘But Lindsay was also a curmudgeon, and he could be very difficult at times. He used to write to reviewers, complaining. He was wasting his time, of course, but he couldn’t help himself. If someone said to him, “Could we have an interview with you, Mr Anderson?,” he would say, “Well I suppose I can give your career a bit of a leg-up.” He was prickly, but you had to see under that. It was always “us and them” with him. But that’s how great things are done. There’s always an edge.
‘I used to have thunderous rows with him. I’d piss him off all the time. Sometimes I used to do things just to get a reaction, knowing he’d be listening. I’d come into his flat and rummage around in his private mail. “Good God, you were offered this film,” I’d say, holding up a letter. “There’s a perfect part for me in that. You should do it.” I was just teasing him. “For God’s sake put that down, it’s private,” he’d roar back. He’s still very present, in a weird way.
‘I remember once inviting my girlfriend of the time on location at Cheltenham College. “Who’s that girl?” asked Lindsay. “That’s my girlfriend,” I said. “Get her off the set,” he replied. He thought she would be a distraction to me, and that wouldn’t serve him. But that’s all directors.
‘Working with him was like doing a film with an Oxford don – indeed he was very much the same on set as he was everywhere else. He was a wonderful director because he led the actors beautifully without them really knowing that they were being directed. He’d let you rehearse it, of course, and make a few suggestions, but usually that was it. Directors need to be prize manipulators.
‘What Lindsay instilled in me was nothing more than the simple confidence to be able to do it. If he wanted to interrupt your rhythm – if you’d said something really stupid – he would repeat what you said, and then just let it hang there. But I honestly can’t remember him ever saying, “That’s not good.” It was always, “OK. Let’s see how this looks.”
‘He always pretty much knew what he wanted, though. Sometimes he would find other stuff in the scenes, and he would be very excited, but in the main he had a pretty good idea. He was very careful with his casting, too. It was hard to say which kinds of actors he preferred, but he didn’t like campness; he liked real people. He liked you to make him believe – that was paramount. I honestly don’t know of one actor who worked with Lindsay who didn’t adore him.
‘From the time we met, I spoke to Lindsay at least once a week. If I had a difficult part, he’d read it and give me notes. In fact, on Clockwork Orange he gave me the key to the role. In a very simple way he helped me enormously. He told me to play Alex like a close-up I did in If … when I smiled defiantly at the head boy as he was about to cane me. He said, “There’s a close-up of you just looking at me and smiling. That’s the way you play Clockwork Orange.” I never mentioned this to Kubrick.
‘Lindsay loved gossip; that’s one thing he really enjoyed. His letters were always filled with gossip. He’d like to hear you say something detrimental about another director or a production – which, of course, would have been a hell of a lot better if he had directed it. But just in a fun, friendly, game kind of way. He wheedled a few things out of me – that was part of the fun. But he’d give me all his gossip straight away: “Did you see Glenda Jackson? Oh my God, they got terrible reviews!” He wasn’t one for jokes, though. I’d say, “I’ve got this joke,” and he’d say, “Don’t bother. I don’t want to hear it.”
‘I think that my show about him would have pleased Lindsay greatly – especially if he realised how much bloody effort went into it.
‘One of the great surprises in preparing it, for me, was seeing everything he wrote and how beautifully he expressed himself. This is from a letter to me in 1981: “I had a late supper one evening with Frank and Treat Williams … Treat took us for a trip in his plane around the Manhattan skyline, an incredible, somehow touching sight. I wonder why? … We passed so close to the World Trade Center buildings that we could see the diners innocently enjoying themselves in the restaurant. In the late-20th century, it’s impossible not to see the whole great heart of the city as vulnerable, exposed to attack.”
‘Lindsay was honestly my best friend who wasn’t a contemporary. I never looked at him as a mentor, and I don’t really like the term, but I suppose he was. I knew that if there was ever any apologising to be done, it would probably have to be from me. That was the price of the relationship.
‘He was gay, but he was a celibate homosexual. All the people that he loved were unattainable because they were heterosexual. I didn’t really know that he was gay, and I wasn’t going to ask him because it wasn’t my business. He never, in any way, made a pass at me, although he took an enormous interest in me as a person, which I suppose had homosexual overtones to it. But sex was never an issue.
‘When he died, well what can you say? It didn’t sink in for a while. And then you realise there are no more phone calls. But I never crossed his number out of my phone book. It’s still there now.’ — Malcolm McDowell
Malcolm McDowell @ IMDb
Malcolm McDowell Official @ Twitter
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from The AV Club
The A.V. Club: Much of the language of A Clockwork Orange comes out of Anthony Burgess’ book, but what made you decide to give Alex a Northern English accent? That’s where you’re from.
Malcolm McDowell: Yes. I decided to do it Northern, because if it’s Cockney, it’s very sharp letters. You sort of expect a spiv or a thug. But Northern, the vowel sounds are much softer, and therefore I felt that the fact that he is this menacing character with this softer sound would be more interesting.
AVC: So you thought it through on those technical terms.
MM: Yes. I mentioned it to Stanley, who went, “Whatever.”
AVC: Although Kubrick lived in England, he was raised in the U.S., and the subtleties of those different accents are lost on Americans.
MM: I know. Actually, there was a good case in point, because he had cast one of the stuntmen to play the eminent doctor—Sir something something. When the guy came in, the stuntman, he had a good Cockney accent, he goes, “Ah, well ’ere Minister, ’ere’s little Alex now.” I started to laugh. He said, “What are you laughing at?” I said, “He’s an eminent doctor, Sir something, he’s not going to have a Cockney accent.”
AVC: There’s a funny link between Clockwork and If…. Stanley Donen was the president of the jury when If…. won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and you later found out Donen was personally responsible for presenting the film as a compromise choice between polarized factions. Later, you picked “Singin’ In The Rain” as the song Alex would sing while he’s beating a man half to death. You’ve said Donen’s co-director Gene Kelly wasn’t thrilled about that.
MM: Stanley took it for what it was, and knew it was an homage to him and to Gene. Of course I meant no disrespect. It was instinctive, because they made such an important and indelible sequence out of that. It’s a terrific movie, anyway. I can understand somebody being really pissed, of course I can. It’s a shame.
AVC: It says something interesting about how Stanley Kubrick worked at the time. Kubrick is known as a control freak, doing hundreds of takes until he got exactly what he wanted, but that song, which you suggested using on the set, ends up playing an important role in the plot, and even plays over the closing credits.
MM: It totally, totally changed the movie, I think in the same way Peter Sellers changed Strangelove. It’s the perfect device, that’s what’s so amazing, because it gets us over the rape and beating in this satirical way.
AVC: It also seems representative of the kind of energy and even theatricality you brought to your performances at the time.
MM: But don’t forget, of course, that Alex was a music lover. He loved Beethoven. He was obsessed by it. And of course it would follow that he would like “Singin’ In The Rain.”
AVC: O Lucky Man! (1973) — “Mick Travis”
MM: Can you imagine that ever being made today? The only reason we made it for Warner Brothers was because Clockwork Orange was such a huge hit. I sent them the script, and the director just happened to be in New York, two weeks after the film had opened. I don’t know whether they read the script. It wasn’t an expensive movie, we did it very reasonably, £1.7 million. That was probably $3 million. But it encompassed everything, and the music.
AVC: Just the style of the film is so wild. It opens with a silent-film parody, there are musical numbers—
MM: You know, I’m the one who gets his hands cut off [in the silent film]. A lot of people don’t even know it’s me. I play two parts.
AVC: After you get thrown in jail, Lindsay Anderson puts those statistics up on the screen about how many people are in prison, and it’s as if we’re briefly in a whole different kind of movie.
MM: Nonsense, pick any number you want, it’s nonsense. That was the whole point, though, because people manipulate statistics however they want. So they don’t mean anything, that’s what that’s saying.
AVC: O Lucky Man! started out as a story based on your experience as a coffee salesman, but it grew into this massive, absurd picaresque. When did it leave your control?
MM: I did not write the original 40-page treatment to sell the script with me as the writer. I could care less who did it. I knew it would be a collaboration between David Sherwin, the writer of If…., myself, and Lindsay Anderson. But I’m t
he start of it. I did write a lot of it, but I don’t need to be credited with that, because David earned his living as a writer. And that was pointed out to me, when I went, “Well, really I should be co-writer.” Then he goes, “What’s your next script?” I go, “Well, I don’t know.” And he goes, “No, you’re not a writer, let David.” To be fair, Lindsay wrote the majority of it anyway.
AVC: Your treatment wasn’t, for example, “And then he comes across a man whose head is attached to the body of a sheep.”
MM: No, it wasn’t that specific.
AVC: I mean the more fantastic elements, generally.
MM: There was the whole fantastic element of the nuclear meltdown, that I handled myself. It wasn’t quite as catastrophic as that, but Lindsay took it to its nth level. Which was great. Which was correct, to do it that way.
AVC: There are little lines here and there that seem like they might be references to you: “This is no place for a boy from the North,” or when you’re serving at a soup kitchen and you’re told not to “put on an act.”
MM: I don’t think the one at the soup kitchen is in relation to me and my career. Of course, the end is the audition for If…. in a very stylized way. It didn’t happen like that—my God, I wish it had, but it didn’t. I kept saying to Lindsay, “I don’t know how to end the damned thing.” He goes, “What happened to you?” I went, “I became a movie star.” He went, “There you are.”
AVC: Was that the actual script for O Lucky Man! he slapped you with? It’s a long, long movie.
MM: Of course. It’s this thick. I said, “Can’t we cut this down?” He had me do a good 15, maybe 18 takes. I don’t remember the number. I remember having the crap beaten out of me. David had rather naïvely put in, “He hits Mick, and Mick smiles the smile of success.” Of course, that’s just a writer’s fantasy. He doesn’t know that you can’t smile the smile of success if you’re hit with a script like that. You’re actually quite stunned. But there was a rather enigmatic sort of look, which was perfect, the look of understanding. It is the Zen moment. It leads back to when I auditioned for If…., this girl [Christine Noonan] slapped me so hard. That was the Zen moment in my life that moved me from there to there.
AVC: It’s great that Warner Bros. is taking this opportunity to release Never Apologize, the film of your one-man show about Lindsay Anderson.
MM: Then you know a lot about it, because it’s all there. I was thinking of actually doing a script, a film, about my relationship with him, and maybe playing him. Because it’s a love story, in a way.
AVC: You speak of him with great affection and respect, and playful criticism as well.
MM: It’s almost like a marriage.
AVC: Never Apologize definitely conveys a sense of how creative relationships work. On O Lucky Man!, you and David Sherwin are plotting out who will bring each newly written scene to Anderson, since if you both bring it, he’ll reject it out of hand.
MM: No, because he’ll think we’re ganging up. “You take this, I’ll take this.” And then he’d go, “Yes, I rather like this, that’s not bad. Good work today, boys.” It’s like the master at school giving us an A. It’s unbelievable. That’s the way we did the damn thing. It seems inconceivable now, but that’s the way it was done. I had it in the back of my mind, maybe, to do it, and to write the script about the whole relationship, and the whole thing of the films and everything, because I thought that people would never see that. And we could do that reasonably cheaply. It wouldn’t have to be on location with him looking around and going, “Who is this girl?” “Oh, that’s my girlfriend.” “Get her off the set!”
AVC: The Player (1992)—“Malcolm McDowell”
MM: Bob Altman was a friend of mine. We were friends for 35 years. I love Bob Altman. I always admired him so much, because I always thought he was a genuine voice. If you wanted to know what was going on in America for all those years, just go rent Altman’s movies. He was a unique person, and anti-establishment; he hated Hollywood and all that. But what fun to have a night with him. They loved to party, those guys.
AVC: Did you have anybody in mind when you came up with the moment where you confront Tim Robbins’ producer in a hotel lobby?
MM: Actually, I did. I’m not going to tell you who it was. I stupidly said to the man—who I’d worked with, who went on to head three major studios, at which I never worked of course, for one of them. Because I went up to him at a screening, and I said, “Look, if you want to badmouth me, you can do it to my face, not behind my back.” And I just turned. Then I read, oh my God, he’s the head of UA, then he was the head of Columbia. And I went, “That was a bit stupid.” So at least I got the one line I could use, and I gave it to Altman for his film.
AVC: Time After Time (1979)—“H.G. Wells”
MM: Oh, I love that part. I love that film, actually. Well of course, I was in love during the filmmaking—how could you not love the damn film? And I’ve always loved San Francisco since. In fact, Mary [Steenburgen] and I went back there six years later, and I’m like, “What the hell do we like about this place?” I said, “My God, even the Tadich Grill is not that good.” So you do see a place through rose-tinted spectacles. It was a wonderful time, and also such a beautiful part. Normally I would have been cast as Jack the Ripper, and I’m so happy David Warner did it brilliantly, and I didn’t have to do that. H.G. Wells was such a fun part.
AVC: There are recordings of Wells, and photographs, but you don’t seem like an actor who buries yourself in research.
MM: I never do research, unless it’s extraordinary circumstances. But I actually did do research for that part. I called the BBC’s archives office, and I said, “Would you send me recordings of H.G. Wells?” He’d done a radio interview in 1932 or something, whatever it was. Anyway, the vinyl comes, I put it on, and I was so shocked to have this high-pitched, whiny Cockney accent. I thought, “Right, I’m going to take that to Hollywood.” So I sent the thing back, and I went, “Forget about, you know. I’ll grow the mustache, that’s it. That’s the character.”
AVC: Did you ever regret not taking the opportunity to play more good guys?
MM: The thing is, I’ve never been a handsome leading-man type, so let’s not kid ourselves. I’m very happy to be where I am. Of course, H.G. Wells is really a character lead; it’s not a romantic lead, even though it’s a romance. And actually, when the studio sold the movie originally, they sold it as a Jack the Ripper chase movie, which killed it stone dead. If they’d sold it as a romance, a love story, I think they would have done a lot better with it, because audiences loved that film. Mary and I snuck into a screening in Times Square, and the whole black audience were talking back to it. We were like, “Oh my God, this is so much fun!” We loved it; we just had so much fun watching it with them. But because of this dreaded word, “market research,” which has its place but has replaced a nose for the business, ingenuity, whatever, they thought it would be better off sold as a Jack the Ripper movie.
AVC: Royal Flash (1975)—“Captain Harry Flashman”
MM: Richard Lester is a wonderful director, a great comedy director, of course. He’d done The Three Musketeers and the Beatles movies. An incre
dibly talented man, who just withdrew from the business because there was a tragic accident on one of his sets [The Return Of The Musketeers]. Roy Kinnear, who was a friend of mine, was killed on a horse. Actually, he wasn’t killed on the horse; they killed him in the hospital. They gave him the wrong thing, or something. It was tragic, and of course it wasn’t the fault of Dick Lester, but he took it very hard, and he couldn’t bring himself to direct again. Which is our loss. But I also met Roy Kinnear’s son. That was a great treat for me, because I loved Roy. He was such a great actor; he was such a wonderful, roly-poly character, and a wonderful comedian. It was very, very tragic.
Royal Flash, it was a lot of fun to do it. It was really sad that we didn’t start that franchise with the first book. But there was so much baggage attached to it that Dick Lester said, “To hell with it, let’s just do the second one.” That’s why there’s this whole thing at the beginning with him at the fort—that’s the whole of the first book, right there. Awarded the V.C., because he had the Union Jack draped around him. Of course it fell on him, hit him, knocked him out, and he got entwined in it. It was a great part, but it didn’t really quite gel. The script was a bit overlong, then they introduced the partisans halfway through. Just a bit too much going on, I think. But Oliver Reed was wonderful as Bismarck.
AVC: The books aren’t that well known in the U.S., but that must have been a hugely anticipated film in Britain.
MM: Yes, I think so. But in Britain, there again, it should have been the first one, and I think people just went, “That’s weird.” So they didn’t go see it.
AVC: You’ve gotten some flak for killing Captain Kirk in Star Trek: Generations, haven’t you?
MM: I like to razz the Trekkies a little bit. Who doesn’t? It’s trainspotting, isn’t it? But they are very well-meaning, actually. I’ve done a couple of Star Trek conventions, and they’ve only been really welcoming. I don’t do too many of those things, but I’ve found them very cordial, and I’m very happy with the film. I think it’s a terrific film, Star Trek: Generations. It was nice to be in [William] Shatner’s last one, and do the dastardly deed myself. It was nice to work with Patrick [Stewart], because I hadn’t worked with him since Stratford-on-Avon, 1965. As I like to say, he was playing old men even then.
AVC: You told Shatner that half the audience would hate you for killing him and half would love you, by which you meant they were sick of seeing him in that role. That’s never happened to you. You’ve had a few TV opportunities, like Fantasy Island, but they haven’t lasted long.
MM: I wish they had done. I’d rather got used to the life in Hawaii. But unfortunately, the scripts weren’t that good. It was a great shame, but it’s all to do with script, you know. I’ve got this new show called Franklin & Bash, and this time we’ve got really top-drawer writers that are fantastic. And these two kids are fantastic, Breckin Meyer and Mark-Paul Gosselaar.
AVC: The verdict from the fans is that the show Heroes, on which you played Daniel Linderman, went off the rails at some point.
MM: I had nothing to do with that. They made some dumb choices, but Tim Kring is a very talented man, and he will come back with a great series, I have no doubt whatsoever. I wasn’t even sure whether I should even do this thing. I thought, “I don’t know, I don’t think I want to do a TV show, a reoccurring bit.” Anyway, I was talking to my son, Charlie, my older one. I said, “Have you ever heard of this thing, Heroes?” He goes, “Dad, I love it!” I went, “You do? Oh, I’ve just been offered something.” He goes, “Oh my God, you got to do it!” I went, “Oh my God, I think I turned it down. All right, listen, I got to get off the phone. I’ll call my agent. Are you sure I should do it?” “Yes!” I call my agent, said, “You didn’t turn it down yet, did you?” He went, “No, no, I knew you’d be calling back.” I said, “I’ll do it.”
I had no idea they’d been building this Linderman character up all season. It was a culmination, and this incredible character. I was very happy, and it just worked beautifully. Baking pies, it was a great scene. Then it was such a success, that character, even though they killed me off. But it was so successful. They brought me back for the next season, but unfortunately, the man who’d written my thing originally was off on another series. He was doing Kings with Ian McShane. McShane is a terrific actor. I like McShane a lot. He’s another one who found a career late, which is great. I mean, better late than never.
24 of Malcolm McDowell’s 148 films
Lindsay Anderson If … (1968)
‘It is every unruly pupil’s fantasy to run riot in the classroom and Mick Travis, the anti-hero in Lindsay Anderson’s If …, takes schoolboy rebellion to the limit. This razor-sharp satire eviscerates the British establishment, and Malcolm McDowell relishes his role as the public-school refusenik at war with the society that created him. This was McDowell’s debut, and his work with Anderson was to be his best. Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange made him a household name, but the rest of his career was spent playing minor-league heavies. McDowell’s roles in Anderson’s loose trilogy comprising If …, O Lucky Man! and Britannia Hospital do not trace the development of a single character. Mick Travis is a shape-shifter whose circumstances and attitudes differ according to Anderson’s purpose. The disaffected public schoolboy in If … , the innocent chancer in O Lucky Man! and the investigative reporter in Britannia Hospital share the same name but little else. Each is a cipher through which the director projects his conflicted vision of the state of the nation.’ — The Guardian
Joseph Losey Figures in a Landscape (1970)
‘The production took four months to film, between June and October 1969. It was shot in Sierra Nevada, Granada, Andalucia, Spain. During pre-production, many of the film’s crew were replaced, such as Peter Medak as director and Peter O’Toole as star. At the time of filming, Robert Shaw was a quite well known star, whereas Malcolm McDowell was still relatively unknown, being that it was made in the period after If…. but before A Clockwork Orange. The film was quite revolutionary with its use of mystery to the audience; the characters, background, and location all go unknown throughout the entire film. The only information on the characters is revealed through dialogue. Whereas the book reveals the characters to be soldiers, this never comes up in the film. The film also makes much use of long takes, mainly in the shots which take place in the helicopter, the long takes signify the helicopter’s long search.’ — collaged
Stanley Kubrick A Clockwork Orange (1971)
‘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. 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.’ — Mental Floss
Anthony Burgess and Malcom McDowell analyze A Clockwork Orange
Lindsay Anderson O Lucky Man! (1973)
‘Few British films have been more ambitious than Lindsay Anderson’s 1973 satirical epic, O Lucky Man!. It recounts the further adventures of Mick Travis, the rebellious hero of Anderson’s 1968 If…, as played by Malcolm McDowell – who, as Kubrick’s outlaw-martyr Alex in A Clockwork Orange (1971), had become a complex expression of the dystopian zeitgeist of the end of the Sixties. In this surreal, picaresque, condition-of-England saga, the Candide-like Mick begins as a bushy-tailed salesman for Imperial Coffee, is corrupted by a series of encounters, and spat out by the system, finally being set upon by a gang of tramps who resent his idealism about humanity. Until, that is, a Brechtian “happy ending” in which Mick is cast, by Anderson himself, as Mick Travis in O Lucky Man!, whereupon a Fellini-like party breaks out.’ — Telegraph
Richard Lester Royal Flash (1975)
‘A larkish 1975 burlesque of adventure novels and movies that emanated from the waning days of the British Empire, Royal Flash remains a watchable romp—mildly naughty, superficially subversive—due largely to the wit, sex appeal, and rakish physicality of star Malcolm McDowell. Cavorting through early, expository scenes in gambling parlors and boudoirs, staged by director Richard Lester in an even more slapstick mode than his Three Musketeers adaptation, McDowell imbues the preening Captain Harry Flashman, a debauched coward whom pure luck in warfare has anointed him “the hero of Afghanistan,” with as much charm and spirit as the character will allow. A sneering, magnetic icon made by his boy-rebel roles in If… and A Clockwork Orange, the actor lets Flashie’s disdain and arrogance quickly dissipate as he winces under the fetishistic hairbrush beatings of his lover, Lola Montez (Florinda Bolkan), then panics as he’s ensnared in a plot to destabilize a Bavarian duchy during the revolutions of 1848. Widening his blue, saucer-shaped eyes in fear or leaping on a tabletop to duel with short-lived bravado, McDowell sends up archetypes of derring-do with a confident showman’s energy, the same charisma that provided Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange with a troubling moral landscape.’ — Slant Magazine
Stuart Rosenberg Voyage of the Damned (1976)
‘Despite the talented cast, the attention to detail and the lavish production, critics were not receptive to Voyage of the Damned when it opened in late December 1976. Neither a totally accurate or convincing historical recreation nor a full-fledged overwrought disaster flick, Voyage of the Damned seemed to many reviewers too long at 155 minutes, and yet it was criticized for its superficial treatment of its important story. Most of them complained that the abundance of big name stars was more a distraction than an enhancement, and generally deemed the movie too confusing and too cluttered. Seen from the perspective of thirty years later, Voyage of the Damned still provides a decent introduction, at least, to a disturbing incident out of history. It’s also a relic of a certain kind of filmmaking, a time where no expense was spared to try to convince audiences that they were seeing something spectacular, and important in terms of artistic and historical merit, even if the star power on display seems a bit frivolous and beside the point.’ — TCM
Tinto Brass Caligula (1979)
‘Nearly 30 years after the release of Caligula, acclaimed actor Malcolm McDowell discusses the outrage he felt over the movie’s editing and script changes — as well as his distaste for the film’s producer, former Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione — in an exclusive interview in the November/ December issue of The Girls of Penthouse magazine, on sale at newsstands now. McDowell’s interview is as shocking and compelling as the film that inspired it. “I’m proud of the work I did in Caligula,” McDowell told the magazine’s Managing Editor, Eric Danville. “There’s no question about that. But there’s all the raunchy stuff-the blatant, modern-day porn that Bob introduced into the film after we’d finished shooting. That to me was an absolutely outrageous betrayal and quite unprecedented. Frankly, it showed that Bob had no class whatsoever.” McDowell also tells the publication that he took the role on the strength of Gore Vidal’s original script, without even knowing who was backing the project. “When Gore told me it was Bob Guccione, I asked, ‘Isn’t he a pornographer?’ Gore said, ‘Malcolm, just think of him as one of the Warner brothers. He just signs the checks!’ Well, of course that wasn’t true…”‘ — collaged
Nicholas Meyer Time After Time (1979)
‘A twist on Wells’ classic novel The Time Machine, Time After Time finds McDowell as the famous author, pursuing Jack the Ripper into the future. After Wells discovers that his surgeon friend John Leslie Stevenson (David Warner) is the Ripper, Stevenson escapes from 1893 London to “present day” 1979 San Francisco in Wells’ steampunk-style time machine. Wells follows him into the future, but the fish out of water must first adapt to the society of “tomorrow,” from driving a horseless car to ordering fast food at McDonald’s. As he struggles to adapt, he must race against time to protect his new, modern love interest (Mary Steenburgen) from the legendary killer. “It’s not a thriller about Jack the Ripper; it is actually a love story,” explains McDowell, who found real-life love with co-star Steenburgen on the set and was married to her from 1980 to 1990. “It threw me for a loop. I wasn’t expecting it, wasn’t looking for it. [It’s] one of those things that happened, and I always say this is one of my favorite movies because I got two wonderful children as a gift from this movie.”‘ — ET
Paul Schrader Cat People (1982)
‘One of Cat People’s few missteps (in my opinion) is attempting to redo the famous swimming pool scene from the original, easily one of its scariest moments (to be fair, neither film really has many of those). It’s not a BAD scene, but Paul Schrader doesn’t quite pull it off as well as Jacques Tourneur, and thus it’s one of the few times where you get that “Oh yeah, I’m watching a remake” feeling that you can’t escape with movies like Zombie’s Halloween or Platinum Dunes’ deplorable Nightmare on Elm Street update. The rest of the time, you can be lost in the world Schrader and screenwriter Alan Ormsby devised. This also provides a more exciting way for him to enter the story, thanks to a new character: Irena’s brother Paul, played by Malcolm McDowell. As in the original, if they make love they turn into “werecats”, and it doesn’t take long for that to occur – Paul, in “leopard” form, has attacked a hooker and is prowling around inside of a hotel, and it’s up to Oliver and his coworkers to trap the animal and bring it to their zoo before it hurts anyone else. In the original, they left it intentionally vague as to whether or not they REALLY turned into cat people after making love, but Schrader, working free of the Hays Code that all but forced that ambiguity on the 1942 film, is able to dive right in and let us know almost instantly that it’s a legit curse.’ — Birth. Death. Movies.
Malcolm McDowell on ‘Cat People’
Lindsay Anderson Britannia Hospital (1982)
‘Britannia Hospital is a 1982 black comedy film by British director Lindsay Anderson which targets the National Health Service and contemporary British society. It was entered into the 1982 Cannes Film Festival and Fantasporto. Britannia Hospital is the final part of Anderson’s critically acclaimed trilogy of films, written by David Sherwin, that follow the adventures of Mick Travis (portrayed by Malcolm McDowell) as he travels through a strange and sometimes surreal Britain. From his days at boarding school in If…. (1968) to his journey from coffee salesman to film star in O Lucky Man! (1973), Travis’ adventures finally come to an end in Britannia Hospital which sees Mick as a muckraking reporter investigating the bizarre activities of Professor Millar, played by Graham Crowden, whom he had had a run in with in O Lucky Man. All three films have characters in common. Some of the characters from if…., that didn’t turn up in O Lucky Man, returned for Britannia Hospital.’ — collaged
Snippets and Interviews
Allan Arkush Get Crazy (1983)
‘1983’s Get Crazy, directed by Allan Arkush (Rock And Roll High School) is one of the few rock movies that get the energy right. It doesn’t have a whole lot to do with reality, but so what? The best movies about the devil’s music are often the goofiest. Things go off the rails in this good-humored farce about a chaotic New Years Eve concert at a Fillmore-like venue where no one seems to have a handle on what the fuck is going on. Malcolm McDowell is a riot as the Mick Jaggeresque rock star Reggie Wanker, as is the rest of the saavy cast, including Lou Reed, John Densmore, Lee Ving, Howard Kaylan and Derf Scratch – all displaying the “been there, done that” aura of men who’ve been in the rock ‘n’ roll trenches and come out smiling. Before getting into making films, Arkush worked at the Fillmore East, so he knows the territory.’ — Dangerous Minds
the entire film
Blake Edwards Sunset (1988)
‘Sunset is a 1988 American action comedy film written and directed by Blake Edwards and starring Bruce Willis as legendary Western actor Tom Mix and James Garner as legendary lawman Wyatt Earp. Based on a story by Rod Amateau, the plot has Mix and Earp team up to solve a murder in Hollywood in 1929. Although largely fictitious, the story does contain elements of historical fact. Wyatt Earp did serve as an unpaid technical adviser on some early silent westerns and knew Tom Mix, who would serve as one of the pallbearers at the famed lawman’s funeral. Sunset earned negative reviews from critics, as it holds a 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 12 reviews. The film was a box office failure, produced on a $19 million budget, it made only $4.6 million domestically.’ — collaged
Charles Winkler Disturbed (1990)
‘Disturbed is a 1990 American horror film directed by Charles Winkler starring Malcolm McDowell as a psychiatrist who rapes a young woman in his care, then must deal with her vengeance-seeking daughter 10 years later. Dr. Derrick Russell (Malcolm McDowell) rapes one of the patients in his care. When she throws herself from the roof shortly afterward, he describes her suicide as a consequence of her depression. Ten years later, he plans to rape another patient, Sandy Ramirez (Pamela Gidley). What Russell does not know is that Sandy is the daughter of his previous victim, and that she is bent on revenge. A post-credit sequence depicts a man kissing the camera before he laughs.’ — collaged
the entire film
Robert Altman The Player (1992)
‘Q: In The Player, did you have anybody in mind when you came up with the moment where you confront Tim Robbins’ producer in a hotel lobby? Malcom McDowell: Actually, I did. I’m not going to tell you who it was. I stupidly said to the man—who I’d worked with, who went on to head three major studios, at which I never worked of course, for one of them. Because I went up to him at a screening, and I said, “Look, if you want to badmouth me, you can do it to my face, not behind my back.” And I just turned. Then I read, oh my God, he’s the head of UA, then he was the head of Columbia. And I went, “That was a bit stupid.” So at least I got the one line I could use, and I gave it to Altman for his film.’ — MM
David Carson Star Trek: Generations (1994)
‘To be honest with you, I didn’t want anything to do with this. When my agent said, you heard of Star Trek? I said [groans] yes. I thought cardboard sets, Bill Shatner and Mr. Ears (Spock). I never really watched it. I wasn’t really into science fiction, but I didn’t get into it until I got into it. Then I enjoyed it. There is something to be said about Star Trek for its longevity and its legs in the pantheon of American culture. We’re all fascinated with things we do not know – space… my agent said inquiring about the thing [Star Trek] and I said, ‘I’m not doing 5 hours of makeup every damn day!’… I read the script and thought it was a wonderful part. And to work with old baldy again [Patrick Stewart]. They came up with the money. We’re not a charity, are we? Just because it’s Star Trek … you know they use that to gouge poor actors and expect them to work for the brilliance of the franchise, like they’re not making gazillion off of it. So I turned it down four times, but eventually they paid the price.’ — Malcolm McDowell
Malcolm McDowell on ‘Star Trek: Generations’
Rachel Talalay Tank Girl (1995)
‘The plot is so disoriented it’s not worth explaining. But, for the sake of journalism, I’ll try: Generally, Tank Girl lives in the apocalyptic near future with minimal water. Malcolm McDowell plays a barely-seen villain. There are mutant kangaroos called Rippers. Nothing makes sense, and not in a cool way. To be fair, fractions of the ridiculousness are just true to the comic — kangaroo relations and all. And that’s fine; the appeal of Tank Girl was in her anarchy. It just sucks that in translation of paper-to-film, it turned into something I want to kill with fire. (Great soundtrack, though.) Anyway, don’t cry for Hewlett. He went on to co-create The Gorillaz, so he’s doing fine. And Tank Girl herself, Lori Petty… got a guest spot on Orange is the New Black, which is cool.’ — Bustle
Malcolm McDowell and Lori Petty talking about Tank Girl
Robert Downey Sr. Hugo Pool (1997)
‘The filmmaker Robert Downey was always the dazed flower child of counterculture cinema (in his 1972 Greaser’s Palace, Jesus dropped into the Old West via balloon), and Hugo Pool (BMG/ Northern Arts), his first film in six years, shows the last vestiges of his artistry withering away. Making her daily rounds, Hugo (Alyssa Milano), a comely swimming-pool attendant, encounters a collection of addicts and dropouts who set new standards in wacko charmlessness. The movie, which seems to be taking place in a sitcom insane asylum, is so fey and scattershot that about all it leaves you to focus on is which actor is giving the most annoying performance. Is it Malcolm McDowell as Hugo’s dad, a grizzled junkie who can’t spit out a sentence that doesn’t contain the words ring dang do? Patrick Dempsey, who plays a wheelchair-bound ALS sufferer and still manages to flash his ultra-‘87 smirk? Sean Penn as a placid goofball who looks all duded up to star in Swingers 2? One actor, I’m afraid, tops them all. Robert Downey Jr., as a lunatic who babbles camp gibberish in assorted unintelligible accents, is beyond bad. In Hugo Pool, he’s truly his father’s son — a granulated flake off the old block.’ — Entertainment Weekly
Paul McGuigan Gangster No. 1 (2000)
‘Gangster No.1 is not just the nail-gun through the heart of films like Snatch and Honest. It is an allegorical schwerpunkt to the burgeoning celebrity bling culture of the late 90s and forewarns the disintegration of “Cool Britannia” and the New Labour ideal before 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq. If Fight Club is America’s watershed film pre “War on Terror” then Gangster No.1 is Great Britain’s equivalent. We remember Malcolm McDowell as Alex in A Clockwork Orange – perhaps in a parallel film universe he grew up to
be the 55-year-old sociopath dripping with menace, disfigured by a purple lens flare when his old rival Freddie Mays is mentioned. The shot is disarming; the smallest hint at the horrific madness that lies stuffed down the cracks of this East End rogue. The truth is hideous beyond belief.’ — Global Comment
Mike Hodges I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (2003)
‘Mood and portent can conceal any number of flaws in movies about the thug life. In I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, master of stylish criminality Mike Hodges (Croupier, Get Carter) presents a nighttime London of sharp suits, distorted jazz notes and shiny luxury sedans cruising dirty streets. He does this with such elan that it’s possible to overlook a thin plot and chunks of stilted dialogue. The script by Trevor Preston centers on an archetype: a former crime boss (Clive Owen, from Croupier and King Arthur) forced back into the game. Owen’s Will had renounced the criminal life and become a flannel-clad tree trimmer, but he must avenge a crime against his little brother. The brother (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), a small-time drug dealer and big-time dandy, was raped by a rich sadist (a snarling Malcolm McDowell) as an act of comeuppance.’ — SFGate
Robert Altman The Company (2003)
‘With Altman, a screenplay is not only a game plan but a diversionary tactic, to distract the actors (and characters) while Altman sees what they’ve got. The Company involves a year in the life of the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, during which some careers are born, others die, romance glows uncertainly, a new project begins as a mess and improbably starts to work, and there is never enough money. The central characters are Ry (Neve Campbell), a promising young dancer; Harriet (Barbara E. Robertson), a veteran who has paid her dues and keeps on paying; Josh (James Franco), a young chef who becomes Ry’s lover, and Alberto Antonelli (Malcolm McDowell), the company’s artistic director. McDowell’s performance as Mr. A is a case study in human management. He has strategies for playing the role of leader, for being inspirational, for being a disciplinarian, for remaining a mystery. He teaches obliquely (“You know how I hate pretty”). He has an assistant named Edouard (William Dick) whose primary duty seems to consist of signaling urgently so Mr. A can escape a situation by being needed elsewhere.’ — Roger Ebert
Rob Zombie Halloween (2007)
‘What Donald Pleasence did in the original one was, of course, brilliant. John Carpenter’s movie, I didn’t see it but I hear it’s absolutely the definitive in that genre. But Rob’s no slouch. He’s got a good point of view and he wrote a very interesting script so it was a pretty easy decision for me to want to do it, work with him. And also I’ve never actually done an out and out horror film. I’m not that keen on them, to be honest. I find them tedious, most of them, really kind of schlocky and terrible character development and thin storylines. The ones that I’ve seen, they’re usually pretty bad because they’re very low budget. But I think to make a good one, that’ll be nice.’ — Malcolm McDowell
Brandon Cronenberg Antiviral (2012)
‘With his debut picture, Antiviral, Brandon Cronenberg, son of David, has made a movie that’s decidedly, resolutely unjunky — and more’s the pity. This is a sleek, willfully elegant exercise, high on style even if it’s conspicuously low on ideas. The picture takes place in a future world where people pay good money to allow themselves to be injected with the same little bugs and viruses contracted by celebrities; it’s just one way for them to get closer to the shallow, pretty public figures they idolize. The point, clearly, is that this is where we’re headed if we don’t kick our celebrity-worship habit, and it’s one Cronenberg makes again and again, as if once weren’t enough. Malcolm McDowell slips into the proceedings now and again to deliver some highfalutin dialogue with great Shakespearean gusto.’ — NPR
Rob Zombie 31 (2016)
‘A ho-hum cats-and-mice game with all the narrative logic of a haunted house, Rob Zombie’s 31 may exist solely as an excuse to put weapons in the hands of actors wearing clown makeup. Malcolm McDowell presides over mayhem from above here, betting with his fellow sadists on which of a handful of victims will survive the longest in the death-game he has constructed. McDowell’s “Father Murder,” wearing a powdered wig and French-aristocrat frippery, emerges with two elderly women to tell the captives they’re part of a game he runs every Halloween. They’re meant to try to survive for 12 hours as the old folks send one deranged killer after another to get them, betting along the way on which will survive the longest. After informing each of the astronomical odds set on his or her survival, Father Murder introduces their first tormentor: a shirtless Latino dwarf wearing smudged clown makeup and, for some reason, a swastika on his chest. And it’s off to the races.’ — Variety
Ash Avildsen American Satan (2017)
‘American Satan was directed and co-written by Ash Avildsen, the CEO of indie heavy-metal label Sumerian Records, with help from B-movie connoisseur Matty Beckerman. In the space of 90 minutes, it captures some of the worst acting ever committed to film, four semi-impressive (and very loud) musical numbers, a chilling performance by industry workhorse Malcolm McDowell as Satan (also referred to as “Mr. Capricorn”), a monologue about Steve Jobs, a rash of murders, and what feels like — if you are watching the movie in the cafeteria of a busy office building — 14 hours of Eyes Wide Shut-inspired sex scenes.’ — The Verge
p.s. Hey. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Thanks for the list. A few on there I’m dying to see. And nice to see you last night! Thank you for coming! ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi. Yep, the great equaliser. Dude, it’s so nice hear that the public lift off of ‘Compendium’ is a thing, and a blasting thing. ** David Ehrenstein, Good morning from the East Coast’s slightly earlier morning. ** Kyler, Hi. Yeah, it’s a fave oldie of mine too, as I think I said. I am happy to be escaping the heart of your heatwave, although apparently Paris is having one too, so I think my miserable red eye flight betwixt here and there might be my only escape time. Take care, bud. ** Chris Dankland, Hi, Chris! Awesome to see you! Holy shit, you guys will be there tomorrow. Definitely say hi. I have to catch a car to airport pretty soon after the show ends, but I definitely do not want to miss this golden opportunity to meet you. Wow, cool. You’re going back to the hot, arid southwest, eh? Well, it was boon central for you before, so it sounds like a forceful plan. I was only in Santa Fe once, and, yeah, I didn’t get it at all. I know people who love it, but it just seemed like a weird, southwest-themed planned community or something. Thanks a lot about ‘ZCR’. Of course, I would be totally honored and thrilled to be interviewed about it for Xray. That sounds really dreamy. It would be way cool to be in/on Xray. I’m going to be crazy busy with NYC, flight to Paris, flight to Mallorca, film festival screening of PGL, flight back to Paris. But I’ll be in the clear and can do it whenever is best for you starting on July 2nd forward, if that’s okay. Thank you a lot for wanting to. Awesome, so I’ll see you tomorrow! Crazy! Safe trip to the big A. ** Ke,E*e>on, I described staying in this apartment to someone as being like I got accidentally locked inside some weird, crammed little outsider art roadside museum and having to figure out how I can sleep ‘cos there’s no actual bed or even chairs. I’m sitting on a box. Well, legal pot … California, Colorado, … where else … Supposedly NYC soon. I think John Waters said he won’t have sex with someone who doesn’t have a bookshelf. ** Bill, Hi, B. I remember that site. Huh. Your review of ‘Hereditary’ is sort of exactly what I fear about it. The trailer and the posters are so good, though. Damn. ** JM, Hey. Well, I made that post years before Benning made ‘Readers’, so maybe it inspired him, ha ha, as if. It was playing in Rotterdam at the festival where PGL premiered, but, of course, at the same time our film was showing. Argento sounds good. It’s been ages for me. I’m having kind of the opposite thing, i.e. people are cool and connectable, but I’m visiting. People like visitors better. ** Caitie, Hi, Caitie. Dennis is a weirdly not that common a name. I’ve always been bored by having that name because it seems so blah, but then I don’t meet Dennises that often. But Dennis sounds boring. There’s no pizazz in its syllables. Well, my real name is Clifford Dennis Cooper, and I was named that by my egomaniacal father whose name is Clifford Dennis Cooper. Mm … Caitie, no, I don’t think I’ve ever known another one. Are there others? I don’t think I know any other Olivias now, but I have known a couple. A girl at my high school, a poet or aspiring poet. And a woman who lived in an apartment next to mine in LA who was very old and kind of nice/weird. Do you know why you were named Olivia? There was this ‘New Narrative’ conference in Berkeley last year, and I was there, and I missed Michael Amnsasan’s reading, but it was very controversial in the sense that some people thought it was the worst reading ever and others were really swooning and raving. I don’t know why, though. I don’t nap unless I’m extremely jet lagged. Otherwise I just can’t, even if I’m really pooped. My brain is too excited when it’s light outside. It just will not turn off. It’s a problem. I just have to keep guzzling espressos until nighttime. My day was kind in between the messy and the clear, in a really nice way, I might add. I hope yours was compelling. ** Okay. For today, for whatever reason, I have obviously restored an old post dedicated to Malcom McDowell and his odd ‘career’. See what you think. See you tomorrow.