Eleven years in the making with eight years of actual filming, Roar starred 150 untrained lions, tigers, elephants, panthers, leopards and even a mouse, and suffered untold setbacks during filming, including a bush-fire, a flood which wiped out the location, and numerous injuries and accidents (most of the lion attacks in the film were real, usually resulting in actual injury to the cast and crew).
Noel Marshall wrote, starred, directed and financed the movie, and his real-life wife Tippi Hedren (a wildlife activist who campaigned for the protection of big cats), provided the big-name draw. Their children Jerry and John Marshall and Melanie Griffith also starred.
Noel was attacked by wild cats so many times during production that he eventually developed gangrene. In one incident, he was clawed by a cheetah while protecting the animals during a bushfire in 1979. All of the animals were evacuated but it took several years for Noel to recover from his injuries.
Melanie Griffith was mauled by a lion during filming and required plastic surgery. She reportedly received 50 stitches to her face, and it was feared she would lose an eye, but she recovered and was not disfigured. On another occasion, a lion grabbed her hair and wouldn’t let go. That shot made it into the film.
Cinematographer Jan de Bont was mauled by a lion on the set. Over 120 stitches were needed to sew his scalp back in place. After medical treatment, De Bont returned to the production to complete his Director of Photography duties.
Twenty of the crew walked out and would not come back. Amazingly, nobody died.
The plot (such as it is) of Roar is largely superfluous: Conservationist Hank (Marshall) has been in Africa for three years when his family – wife Madelaine (Hedren), sons John (John Marshall) and Jerry (Jerry Marshall) and daughter Melanie (Griffith) – comes to visit.
Madelaine and the kids are staggered to find Hank’s homestead overrun with lions, and for the rest of the movie, they endeavour not to die.
Principal photography started in October 1976 at Santa Clarita in California (where most of the movie was filmed).
The shoot was scheduled to last six months but blew out thanks to periodic shutdowns (most of the investors left during the course of the production) while Noel Marshall hustled to finance a budget which ultimately ballooned to $17 million.
The film has since been described as “the most expensive home movie ever made”. Unfortunately, despite all the effort and injury, Roar was a box office disaster.
Marshall and Hedren subsequently divorced, and his son John would later remark, “Dad was crazy. He was absolutely bat shit crazy. He was worse than the whole family put together. He was actually quite dangerous.”
The moral of the story is abundantly clear to all cat owners/servants: Cats are arseholes – big cats are big arseholes!