Roar (1981)   Leave a comment

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Tippi Hedren starred in THE BIRDS and MARNIE for Alfred Hitchcock before getting on his bad side.  Now instead of acting, she runs Shambala, a wildlife preserve in southern California specializing in lions, tigers, and other predators.  ROAR helps explain how Hedren made the leap from actress to cat fancier. The film shows Hedren’s then husband, Noel Marshall who lives with big cats on an African preserve.  When I say lives with, I mean it.  Lions tigers, leopards, and panthers roam freely on the grounds and through his house.

gang

“Whoa whoa!  Not EAT the Press!”

In one scene, Marshall takes a bath surrounded by huge lions who drink from the tub.  They stand on their back legs to hug him and seem to listen when he tells them what to do.  He even breaks up bloody fights between two alpha male lions.  In the film, Hedren and the couple’s three young adult children (including a teenage Melanie Griffith) come to Africa to live with Dad.  They arrive at his home early and meet his feline pals.  Of course they don’t know how to act around the creatures and hijinks of the ‘almost being eaten’ variety ensue.  Filmed using real wild animals who really get hungry and playful and mad, ROAR makes Marshall look both brilliant and foolish.  He has a way with these wild beasts, but he also takes a lot of chances.  It’s a weird mix of documentary and narrative fiction that did horribly at the box office when it came out in 1981.  It cost $17 million to make and made a whopping $2 million.  ROAR is a weird one.  Two weeks after seeing it, I’m still not sure if I liked it.  It was like a car accident.  I felt compelled to watch, but found it fascinating because I got to see professionals at work.  In this case, the professionals were lions.  Marshall comes off as a goofy, but dedicated naturalist who fell in love with jungle cats.  It’s an odd slice of life semi-rehearsed documentary.

still

As for the injuries sustained during the eleven years of shooting on Shambala, stories vary.  Melanie Griffith got 50 stitches on her face, an assistant director was bitten on the throat and jaw and narrowly escaped losing an ear.  Noel Marshall was clawed so many times, he got gangrene.  Noel’s sons were bitten and clawed many times, and cinematographer Jan de Bont got 220 stitches when a lion lifted his scalp.

jan de bont

Jan sports his new look

As you might have guessed, employee turnover was high and Hedren and Marshall’s marriage didn’t weather the stormy set either.

bed

“I think we need a new alarm clock.”

I watched ROAR at the Wellfleet Drive-In in Wellfleet, Massachusetts as part of the Provincetown International Film Festival.

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