Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Painful Mishap Malcolm McDowell Suffered While Filming Clockwork Orange

Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" proved not only to be one of the most controversial films of the notorious perfectionist filmmaker's career, but also one of the most disturbing movies of the 1970s. The movie is unique in the director's canon due to its depiction of graphic violence and its particular sound, style, and blurring of the lines between drama and satire. Based on the novel by Anthony Burgess which explores a group of futuristic London street thugs who spend their evenings terrorizing the city's older residents, the film version would become so incendiary that Kubrick pulled it from UK cinemas in 1973 due to increasing protests (per PBS).

As a celebrated moviemaker, Kubrick's on-set behavior during filming is well documented, which includes emotional stress inflicted upon some of his actors in addition to the demand for multiple takes of often rudimentary scenes. But for Malcolm McDowell, who played the lead character Alex in "A Clockwork Orange," the director's demands also became physically demanding. This included a painful mishap the veteran actor has revealed, which came during the shooting of a pivotal scene.

The corneas of McDowell's eyes were scratched during excessive filming of a scene

In an interview with NME for "A Clockwork Orange's" 50th anniversary in 2021, Malcolm McDowell recalled some of his experiences when filming the movie with Stanley Kubrick. In the story, there is a procedure that includes mechanically prying open his character's eyes to watch graphic scenes to curb Alex's violent impulses by force. McDowell commented on this, saying "[Kubrick] showed me a picture of this and I went" 'Oh yeah? Wow'. He goes, 'What do you think?' 'What do you mean what do I think? It's an eye operation going on.' He said: 'I'd like you to do that.' I went: 'What? There's no way! No, no, no.' But he already had a doctor from Moorfields [Eye Hospital, in London] coming over to talk to me about it."

The actor then revealed that the physician arrived and starred in the film as well. He continued, "So they scratch my corneas, and then a week later [Kubrick] says: 'I've seen all the stuff, and it's great, but I need a real close-up of the eye.' And I went: 'Well, why don't you do it on the stunt double? That's what he gets paid for.' 'Malcolm, your eyes are ... I can't do that ... '" McDowell concluded by saying his corneas were scratched again, but it was all worth it since the scene is impactful. Although his hoped-for lifelong relationship with Stanley Kubrick was not to be, McDowell continues to praise Kubrick's movies.