Tippi Hedren lived with wild animals for over a decade. It led to the most dangerous film ever made.

In 1969, while filming Satan's Harvest in Zimbabwe, actor Tippi Hedren and her talent agent husband, Noel Marshall, went on a trip to a game preserve in Mozambique. 

After visiting a house inhabited by around 30 lions, the pair - who were conservationists - had an idea: What if they made a movie about a home over-run by big cats?

Thus, the premise for Roar, one of the most dangerous film ever made, was born.

Watch the trailer for Roar. Post continues below.

Video via Filmway Pictures.

When they returned home to the United States, Hedren and Marshall set their plan in motion. They worked on the film's storyline together, with Marshall writing up the final script. The story centred around a scientist living with big cats and other wildlife in Tanzania, while his wife and their three children live in Chicago. When the family come to visit him for the first time, the scientist is called away for work, leaving his wife and kids to survive on their own with the animals. To make matters worse, there are poachers circling the compound.

Hedren and Marshall enlisted the acting capabilities of Hedren's daughter Melanie Griffith (who was 17 when filming commenced) and Marshall's sons Jerry and John to play the children in Roar. Hedren would play the wife. No actor was willing to take on the part of the scientist, due to the risks involved with the shoot, so Marshall cast himself. It was his first, and last, acting role.


The couple brought lions and lion cubs to live with them in their home in Sherman Oaks, California. In 1971, LIFE photographer Michael Rougier visited the family to take some pictures of them living amongst the wildlife. Rougier took a number of photos of a teen Griffith with a 400-pound mature lion named Neil, who was free to roam into any part of the house and compound.

Hedren later acknowledged it was "stupid" to put her family in danger like that. As the number of number of animals kept growing, Hedren and Marshall moved production to a large ranch. In the end, there were "132 big cats, one elephant, three aoudad sheep, and a collection of ostriches, flamingos, marabou, storks, and black swans," Hedren wrote in her autobiography. Several thousand dollars was spent on maintaining and feeding the animals.

Filming finally began in 1976 and was supposed to take around nine months.

It took five years instead.

This was due to the fact that so many animals were involved in the filming - and the cast and crew kept getting injured.

Hedren needed multiple skin grafts after contracting gangrene, Marshall had blood poisoning after repeated maulings and bites, Griffith needed facial reconstructive surgery after being mauled near her eye, and cinematographer Jan de Bont [who would go on to direct movies like Twister and Speed] had his scalp torn off, requiring 120 stitches, and an assistant director was swiped at by a lion and narrowly missed having his jugular ripped open.


A scene from Roar. Image: Filmways Pictures.

"I don't know how we survived it... We were one on one with those big cats," Hedren told Variety in 2016. "They're dangerous animals and they're big. As I made the movie, I got into the issue of stopping the government from allowing people to breed lions and tigers as pets. They shouldn't be pets. They're apex predators, top of the food chain, one of four of the most dangerous animals in the world."


In addition to the injuries, a number of lions and tigers actually escaped at one point after a series of wildfires and flooding near the set. To contain the escaped animals, police officers sadly ended up shooting dead three of the big cats.

To make matters worse, the cost of the making the movie was astronomical, with Hedren and Marshall practically selling everything they owned to finish the project. The final insult came once the film was completed in 1981 - it was not picked up for distribution in the United States. There is speculation this is because Roar was made with "non-union talent" which scared away distributors. The film did run in the UK and other European countries, but it was not a hit internationally. While it had cost $17 million to make, Roar only returned $2 million.

Image: Filmway Pictures.


After all the blood, sweat, tears, and more blood, it seemed the movie was doomed to failure.

Given the hardship, the crew believed that the film had fallen under the "curse of The Exorcist." Marshall had been an executive producer on 1973's The Exorcist, arguably the most frightening movie ever made, and the proceeds had gone towards the production of Roar. The Exorcist is famously believed to be cursed because there were several injuries to the main cast members and a fire broke out on set. One of the minor actors also murdered a reporter and could not provide a motive.

However, some good news: In 2015, some 34 years after Roar was completed, Drafthouse Films picked up the rights and released it in the US for the very first time. While it didn't set the cinematic stage on fire, the release did renew interest in the film and the nature of conservation.

Appropriately, the tagline for the 2015 release was: "No animals were harmed in the making of this movie. 70 members of the cast and crew were."

Feature Image: Filmway Pictures.

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