The Haunting/1963/Argyle Enterprises, MGM/112 min.
From Shirley Jackson’s eerie, intellectual ghost story “The Haunting of Hill House” director Robert Wise and screenwriter Nelson Gidding weave a classic supernatural thriller, a shocker without gore, a ghost movie seemingly without ghosts. Or is it?
In “The Haunting,” poltergeist investigator John Markway (Richard Johnson) and his group of spook watchers (Claire Bloom, Russ Tamblyn and Julie Harris) are ensconced in a notorious old dark house together. Harris gives a movie-stealing performance as repressed spinster Nell Lance, who succumbs to Hill House’s shivery spell and terror-laced eroticism. Like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining,” Harris makes you feel the story’s terror – the menace and the entrapment of Hill House as Nell is pulled into the evil of the haunted domicile’s very dark past.
The cast is well nigh perfect, from Johnson’s enthusiastic and charming investigator, Bloom’s ambiguous, fancily severe Greenwich Village lesbian, Julie, to Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny of the James Bond series) as Mrs. Markway.
Tamblyn, who will be present for discussion at the 7 p.m. Tuesday screening of “The Haunting” in Westwood, plays smart-alecky nonbeliever Luke Sanderson. Tamblyn was reteaming here with director Wise, who had guided the actor to the highlight of his career, as Jet gangleader Riff in the 1961 Best Picture Oscar winner “West Side Story.”
Wise’s movie is quite faithful to Jackson’s acclaimed novel. The dialogue is literate and tense. The movie’s tasteful production design and the crystal-sharp black and white cinematography (by Davis Boulton) give this picture, shot in England, a classic look. It’s the kind of brainy, spooky cinematic treat Wise might have whipped up for producer Val Lewton in the ’40s, in their RKO prime time of “The Body Snatcher” and “The Curse of the Cat People” if they’d only had this kind of budget.
Roman Polanski once named Wise’s “The Haunting” as one of his favorite movies. It’s a shame that Polanski didn’t direct the 1999 remake of “The Haunting,” which was messed up by the producers and director Jan De Bont, and not helped by its big budget and gaudy effects. Subtlety, intelligence and superb acting are what cast the spell for Wise and company. Polanski probably would have brought all that back and made the movie sexy to boot – something the 1963 “Haunting” doesn’t really need.
Happy birthday, Edith Head! She was born October 28, in San Bernardino, Calif. In her 60-year career, at Paramount and Universal, she worked on more than 1,131 films, received 35 Academy Award nominations and won eight Oscars, more than any other woman. (Walt Disney, with 22 Oscars, holds the record for a man.)
The exhibition From Philadelphia to Monaco: Grace Kelly Beyond the Icon opens today at the James A. Michener Art Museum, near Philadelphia.
Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson) is psyched to spend a few weeks at a 19th Century New England mansion – need I say haunted? – in order to study its creepiness. As you might suspect, things don’t go to plan. Also starring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom and Russ Tamblyn, who will attend Tuesday’s screening as a special guest. The evening is also a chance to pay tribute to Julie Harris, who died this summer.
At the time of its release, critic Judith Crist called the film “a thoroughly satisfying ghost story for grownups … completely contemporary in its psychological overtones and implications.”
Nelson Gidding wrote the script based on a Shirley Jackson novel; Robert Wise directs. Jan de Bont remade “The Haunting” in 1999, starring Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lili Taylor and Owen Wilson.
You can buy tickets here.
I’m going to start with a sort of Spoiler Alert: “Blue Is the Warmest Color” is not a neo-noir, not even close. But I was curious about the movie because it created quite a buzz at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and snared the top prize there, the Palme d’Or.
Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, “Blue” is a coming of age/love story that follows a teenager named Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) as she navigates a brief affair with a boy and a lengthy intimate relationship with an older woman Emma (Léa Seydoux). Adèle also finishes school, finds a job as a teacher, makes mighty platters of pasta and sheds a lot of tears. In other words, it’s a richly detailed character study and an intense, unhurried exploration of a charming but ordinary woman’s everyday life. One day ends, another starts.
At nearly three hours long and containing rather graphic sex scenes, this is perhaps not the movie to go to with Aunt Ginger. I was a bit on the fence about it myself. But, happily, “Blue” never dragged or felt gratuitous, tasteless or solipsistic. What made it so engrossing for me was the sublimely naturalistic performances from everyone in the cast and a story that, while sometimes mundane, is also largely devoid of clichés. Moving and memorable, “Blue” delivers on its prizewinner promise.
“Blue Is the Warmest Color” opens today in LA and New York. In French with English subtitles.