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Filmmaker Stanley Kubrick has always been somewhat of an eccentric character in Hollywood. The brains behind such classic films as 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, and A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick’s name often goes hand-in-hand with imaginative, challenging filmmaking. Apparently, his name should also be a associate with being a bit cheap.
In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Malcolm McDowell spoke pretty frankly of the conflict that arose between Gene Kelly and Kubrick when Kubrick failed to pay for the use of "Singin’ in the Rain" in one of the most disturbingly memorable scenes in A Clockwork Orange--despite Kubrick’s numerous promises to Kelly. Understandably, this caused quite a bit of tension between Kelly and Kubrick. As Malcolm McDowell tells it, he witnessed Kelly's irritation over the matter firsthand.
When I came out to Hollywood a year later, he completely cut me dead [when we met at a party]. His widow, though, gave a talk about this to the Academy, I think, maybe three years ago, when it was the 40th anniversary. She was very sweet and she came up to me afterwards, and said, "Malcolm, just to let you know, Gene was not pissed off with you. He was pissed off with Stanley… because he never paid him." [Laughs]
EW brought up the fact that this was something of a recurring theme with Kubrick, to which McDowell responded:
Oh, yeah. He was cheap. And of course, I roared with laughter. Of course, he never paid him. He thought it was enough that "Stanley Kubrick" was going to use the song. That’s what he thought.
Kubrick, of course, is a bit notorious for failing to make friends in Hollywood. 2001: A Space Odyssey, though the film is now considered a classic, ran so far over budget that he was forced to make A Clockwork Orange on a shoestring budget to make up for his expenses. His adaptation of The Shining is one that Stephen King, the author of the book upon which the film is based, utterly hated, and is never shy about ranting about. Of course, Kubrick's failure to pay for the use of "Singin’ in the Rain" is particularly gutsy, especially considering how that is one of the most iconic (and completely messed up) scenes from the film.
However, you can kind of excuse Kubrick’s oversight, as the song wasn’t originally planned to be included in A Clockwork Orange. It turns out that McDowell’s choice to make his character, Alex, sing Kelly’s famous song about singing in the midst of a downpour came from a moment of sheer improvisation. After several attempts to take the gritty realism out of the scene, Kubrick asked McDowell if he could dance, and McDowell immediately obliged.
I jumped up and started singing "Singin’ in the Rain" as an improv, on the beats, slapping, kicking, boom. And why did I do that? Because [that song is] Hollywood’s gift to the world of euphoria. And that’s what the character is feeling at the time. So Stanley shoved me in the car, we drove back to his house, and he bought the rights to "Singin’ in the Rain." We came back, he constructed what happened in the rehearsal and for the next week, we shot it. And it’s sort of the key moment in the film, really. And then he was brilliant because he worked it into the plot that that’s how the writer knows it’s me because I’m singing it in the bathtub [later]. That was very clever.
This is only one instance of Kubrick's film-making brilliance, and it's no doubt that Kubrick was a film genius. Kubrick was able to craft scenes within his films that will surely stick with audiences for decades to come. Unfortunately, it seems his reputation for being a bit cheap will also follow his films.