Malcolm McDowell remembers Stanley Kubrick's snub

  • Malcolm McDowell

    Malcolm McDowell

  • A Nebraska cop (Rachel Weisz) becomes a U.N. peacekeeper who uncovers a conspiracy to traffic sex slaves in the fact-based drama "The Whistleblower."

    A Nebraska cop (Rachel Weisz) becomes a U.N. peacekeeper who uncovers a conspiracy to traffic sex slaves in the fact-based drama "The Whistleblower."

Updated 8/11/2011 1:13 PM

A Clockwork actor
Actor Malcolm McDowell will introduce Stanley Kubrick's 1971 classic tale of ultraviolence and mayhem "A Clockwork Orange" at 9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 12, at the Hollywood Palms Cinema, 352 S. Route 59, Naperville. Call (630) 428-5800 or go to for tickets.

So, of course, I had to ring the British star of "Clockwork Orange" and "Caligula" and "Cat People" at his Los Angeles home for a bit of the old chitty chat-chat.


I discovered how McDowell created his iconic rapist/murderer Alex, and also how the late Kubrick crushed the feelings of his young star after finishing the production.

Q. What made Alex such a memorable screen character?

A. "One thing is the look," McDowell said. "It was very unique with the white, the bowler and the eyelash. It's just an iconic image. It's become that. We didn't know it at the time, of course. That was my cricket gear from out of the back of my car that was the basis for my costume."

Q. Why is it so iconic?

A. "I had to make this hoodlum, this thug, in some way appealing, so that people wouldn't be turned off immediately. Some people were, admittedly, and hated it. That was the challenge of doing it, to make it watchable."

Q. Is it true that Kubrick severed all ties with you the moment that you finished "A Clockwork Orange"?

A. "Yes! That was his M.O. I was too young to understand. I thought it was just rejection. Which it was, but it wasn't personal.

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"I was very, very upset. I felt I had been used. He'd gotten everything he wanted out of me and now I couldn't get a return of a phone call.

"After working so closely with Stanley and going through hell and high water to get this incredible film and that performance which is practically in every frame of the film -- then, being cut off and hearing nothing? Very bizarre."

Q. Is it true you received death threats from "Star Trek" fans after your character, megalomaniac Dr. Tolian Soran, killed Captain Kirk in "Star Trek: Generations"?

A. "Oh, dear old Captain Kirk! It was the early days of the Internet. Yes, it's true. But I've made my peace with the trekkies. I've been to a trekkie convention. I told them, 'Go on, if you want to rip me apart! Go ahead!' We had jeers and cheers and had some fun with it.

"Hey, it freed (William) Shatner up to do 'Boston Legal.' But I think he was miffed when the reboot came out (2009's 'Star Trek'). They asked Leonard Nimoy to be in it, but not Bill. I think he was a little upset by that. That's what I heard."


Q. What do you know at 68 that you wished you had known at 25?

A. "I've had three marriages. You don't have to go any further than that. The truth is that I don't regret anything that I've done in my life. I've been remarkably blessed and very lucky. I don't look back. I'm always looking forward."

Q. What's the best thing about being Malcolm McDowell?

A. "Well, I can usually get a good table in a restaurant. That's about it."

Flashback Weekend!
Speaking of Malcolm McDowell, he's one of the guests to be seen at my favorite horror convention, Flashback Weekend, killing all the way through Sunday at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O'Hare, 5440 N. River Road, Rosemont.

Other visiting celebrities include "Friday the 13th" star Kane Hodder, "Nightmare on Elm Street" icon Robert Englund, Chicago's own Michael "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" Rooker, "Aliens" star Lance Henricksen and horror star Sid Haig.

At 1 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 14, join me when I lead a discussion about the threatened state of the indie theaters around America, along with Robert Englund, Flashback founder Mike Kerz and other guests. Culture and education as well as scares!

Of course, you have the Zombie Pinups Beauty Pageant and the Midwest premiere of "The Moleman of Belmont Avenue," plus more.

Go to or call (847) 647-3124 for tickets and updated schedules.

Take a Tivoli tour
Get your daily minimum requirement of Chicago-area culture by taking the free, behind-the-scenes tour of Downers Grove's fabulous and historic Tivoli Theatre from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Aug. 13, at 5021 Highland Avenue. Tours start every 15 minutes, and include the Tivoli's history as told by none other than Willis Johnson, owner of the Classic Cinemas chain that purchased the 1928 theater in 1976, before spending years refurbishing the property to its former glory.

(Historic side note: The Tivoli opened on Christmas Day, 1928, as one of the nation's first sound theaters capable of showing "talkies." An estimated 4,000 patrons stood in line to buy tickets for 15 cents.)

The tour includes the backstage area, projection booth and dressing rooms, plus demonstrations of the Wurlitzer pipe organ. Go to or call (630) 968-0219.

Reel Life mini-review: 'The Whistleblower'
A single bullet gets fired in Canadian filmmaker Larysa Kondracki's fact-based drama "The Whistleblower," and it packs more power and drama than a full military assault in a "Transformers" movie.

Kondracki's tale is a feminist take of the classic "Serpico" in which a virtuous woman takes on a world of predatory, conspiratorial males victimizing the very people they've sworn to protect.

Armed with a pistol and a darned good Midwestern accent, British actress Rachel Weisz plays Kathy Bokovak, a Nebraska cop who contracts to be a peacekeeper in 1999 Bosnia for $100,000 a year.

She winds up being promoted to head of Gender Crimes, and quickly discovers that her male fellow peacekeepers are involved in horrific human trafficking of young women (given faces and voices by the exquisitely vulnerable Roxana Condurache and Rayisa Kondracki) forced to be sex slaves.

Director Kondracki has a knack for showing how less can be much more, especially in a brutal torture segment where what we don't see is far more harrowing than what we do. She expertly ratchets up the paranoia as Kathy slowly realizes how widespread the corruption and cover-up has become.

(The 360-degree camera shots of a panicking Kathy create a perfect sense of an evil world closing in on her, even though the device has never been better used than in Brian De Palma's "Blow Out.")

Kondracki shot "Whistleblower" over a brisk 36 days in Romania. Ironically, had she turned her movie into a rank exploitation project, it would have packed much more commercial appeal than her intelligent, restrained approach here.

Vanessa Redgrave gives Kathy support as the head of the U.N. Human Rights Commission. David Strathairn plays Peter Ward, a savvy U.N. associate who proves the exception to the all-men-exploit-women rule in this dark story.

"The Whistleblower" begins today at the Evanston CineArts 6, Chicago's Century Centre and the Renaissance Place in Highland Park. Rated R for severe violence, sexual situations, nudity, language. 118 minutes ★ ★ ★

Noir City returns again
The third annual "Noir City: Chicago" -- a collection of rare and restored 35 mm. prints of classic film noir films -- runs through Thursday, Aug. 18, at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., Chicago. You can see 16 films for a $55 pass, including new prints of "Loop Hole," "The Hunted," "High Wall," plus "Blue Dalia, " "The Glass Key" and a great newspaper movie "Deadline USA." Go to or

Black Harvest is back
The 17th annual Black Harvest International Festival of Film and Video continues through Thursday, Sept. 1, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., Chicago. Call (312) 846-2600 or go to

• Daily Herald film critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!