Warner Bros. // 1971 // 137 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Chief Justice Sean McGinnis (Retired) // July 5th, 1999
Being the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are rape, ultra-violence and Beethoven.
Another of Kubrick's masterpieces gets shoddy treatment from Warner Brothers.
This is the story of Alex (Malcolm McDowell) and his three droogs. These three are part of a future society where youth has run amok. The four gang members begin our story in a bar where they down milk laced with drugs to "sharpen them up" for a bit of the ultraviolence. Our boys then embark on a night of holy terror, taunting and beating an old drunk, warring with rival gang members and finally raping a woman in a remote house outside of town and beating her husband senseless.
Due to some internal conflict, the three droogs turn on poor Alex during a botched rape attempt during a subsequent evening and as it turns out, Alex has killed the rape victim with a piece of art. Alex is caught and sent to prison, where he can but imagine all the violent fun outside the walls waiting for him. He turns to reading the bible for both entertainment (he imagines himself a Roman warrior whipping innocent citizens) and to manipulate his captors into believing he is truly reformed.
Due to his successful lobbying campaign, Alex is selected for a new aversion therapy treatment, which is said to actually cure one of violent tendencies and commute ones sentence. All of which means Alex figures he can beat the system and return to the streets, raping and torturing all over again. Little does he know. The aversion therapy amounts to the hair of the dog that bit Pavlov. Alex is strapped into a chair in front of a large theater screen. His head is strapped in. His eyes are forced open with metal clips. He is then injected with a drug, which makes him feel violently ill, and forced to watch images of horrific violence pass before his eyes. After a few weeks of twice daily treatment Alex is ready to return to society.
There's only one real problem. He hasn't really changed. He still longs for violence. Unfortunately for Alex, whenever he tries to act on his urges, he becomes violently ill. Therefore, the state has eliminated his free will and his ability for violence, but placed him back onto the same violent streets Alex helped to create. He is then attacked himself (and unable to defend himself) by first the old drunk (with several friends) then by his old droogs (now corrupt police officers). Beaten and in pain, Alex drags himself to the home of the husband whose wife Alex raped years ago. The husband is a left wing writer who despises the aversion therapy treatment and in order to prove his point, discovers Alex's weakness and uses it against him. After discovering the state used Alex's beloved Beethoven as background music during the therapy, the husband locks Alex in a second floor room and starts blasting Beethoven at him from below. The aversion therapy kicks in and Alex feels so violently ill, his only recourse to get away from the pain causing music is to jump out the window in an attempt to kill himself.
Unfortunately, his attempt fails and he finds himself in the middle of a state scandal. The word of poor Alex's travails since being released from prison has hit the papers and the state's treatment is in jeopardy. In the end, the state chums up to old Alex, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Once again, the best part of this Kubrick film is Kubrick himself and the fine work he gets from his actors. Similar to The Shining, Kubrick creates for us some of the most memorable images on film today. The two that strike me hardest are the opening scene with Alex playfully looking out from under his Derby. The other is Alex screaming for the brainwashing to stop when he realizes they are using old "Ludwig Van" as background music.
Unlike The Shining, this film was widely recognized as art from its inception. It received four Academy Award nominations, including best picture. McDowell absolutely carries this film on his back. He is both the main character and narrator. He delivers Alex's gobbledy future speak with such elocution, that the many, many words which are actually made up for the script convey their meaning quite simply, as if one were listening to Shakespeare. He is at turns dastardly, evil, innocent, weak, and confused but all the while wickedly intelligent. He sees all the angles throughout most of this film.
Like The Shining, the audio here is mono, which is the way Kubrick preferred his films. Apparently, he did not "trust" stereo. Whatever. Since this was his intention, I have no problem with Warner issuing this to us in that format. I would much rather have that than some modified 5.1 soundtrack trying in vain to sound good. For a 1971 mono soundtrack, this one sounded just fine to me. Some have said that hey felt the audio on all these Kubrick Collection discs was set too low and that they needed to jack up the output to get a decent rendering of sound. Mine sounded fine. Make sure you set your processor to mono and you will be fine.
Once again, this video presentation has more problems than it should. While not quite as bad as The Shining, this presentation was certainly soft. Presented in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, Warner Brothers decided not to give this film any anamorphic treatment, which is unfortunate. And, before anyone accuses me of the fact that 16x9 enhancement cannot be done with 1.66:1 source material, check out Crash and Damage from New Line. It can be done. And it should have been here. That's not the only problem though. The image was soft all the way around and could have suffered some restoration efforts as well, since I saw quite a few nicks and scratches.
This disc also had no real extras to speak of, except for a trailer and a few production notes. Again, if you are going to go all out and build a boxed set like this, then go all out.
I can't help but feel this entire boxed set was simply rushed to try to take advantage of the coming release of Eyes Wide Shut. Which is a real shame. Warner should have taken their time and really put together a spectacular set here. Instead we are given what amounts to Warner budget line titles with transfers from re-hashed laserdisc masters and no extras, all gussied up in white and blue snappers. Hey Warner, want to make up for this abomination? All you need to do is two simple things. First, re-release every one of these films, as they should have been released. Restored, with lots of extras. I'm sure you could get some film critics or experts to do a commentary track or two. Second, abandon those damn snapper cases. Do that and I will love you forever.
The film is acquitted brilliantly. Warner is guilty and sentenced to use keep cases forever more as punishment for deceiving the public.
Review content copyright © 1999 Sean McGinnis; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 137 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer
* Production Notes