With his bloodied cane and black bowler, Malcolm McDowell became a signature symbol of brutal youth in the landmark 1971 film “A Clockwork Orange.” The role of Alex DeLarge, the malevolent leader of a band of teenage thugs in director Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ dystopian sci-fi novel, also became the signature role of the actor’s nearly five-decade-long career.
The son of a pub-owner father, McDowell adopted his mother’s maiden name for his professional moniker and performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company before making his feature film debut in Lindsay Anderson’s 1968 film “If…” The impish spark in his portrayal of a private school boy who leads a rebellion caught Kubrick’s eye, and the filmmaker cast him in the star-making role as the futuristic hoodlum who is subjected to inhuman experiments to curb his appetite for violence. McDowell received a Golden Globe nomination for the film.
“Clockwork Orange” shocked with its scenes of rape, murder and torture. It was released in the U.S. with an X rating, though it would earn an Oscar nomination for best picture. Amid a nasty furor in 1972, Kubrick withdrew the film from circulation in England, where for more than 25 years it was illegal to show the film in theaters.
The controversy only added to the allure of a movie that still echoes loudly in pop culture.
“The movie hasn’t worn out its welcome at all, and I doubt it ever will,” filmmaker Steven Spielberg told The Times in 2011. “Like all of Kubrick’s films, it’s still a cautionary tale that continues to occur in the world. It was considered a revolutionary film when it came out but not really a prophetic film. But like all of Kubrick’s films, it turned out to be more prophetic than is reasonable.”
After the release of “A Clockwork Orange,” the English actor worked steadily, appearing in a raft of projects throughout the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Some of his most notable films from that period include “O Lucky Man!” (1973), “Caligula” (1979), “Time After Time” (1979) and “Cat People” (1982). He became known primarily as an actor who excelled in villainous parts — he even killed off Capt. Kirk in 1994’s “Star Trek: Generations.”
In terms of television, McDowell starred in a short-lived revamp of the popular 1970s series “Fantasy Island” and has had recurring roles in HBO’s “Entourage,” NBC’s “Heroes” and CBS’ “The Mentalist.” He had guest-starring turns on such procedural dramas as “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” and “CSI: Miami.” He’s also appeared in a number of straight-to-video titles and lent his distinctive voice to video games.
Although he has said that he for years resented the shadow that the character of Alex cast over his career, he’s now come to recognize the importance of the role.
“For years, I didn’t see the same film everybody saw,” McDowell told The Times in 2011. “It was 10 years ago in Los Angeles when I went to a screening of it and I couldn’t believe what I saw, the accomplishment of the movie, the pure talent of Stanley Kubrick. In truth, that’s when I began to look back in a different way.”
He resides in Ojai with his wife Kelley and their three sons.