Based upon a book by then supernatural novelist Shirley Jackson “The Haunting of Hill House” Robert Wise of MGM studios after the marvelous success of his Romeo & Juliet related musical West Side Story read the book and it frightened him enough to give the book to his script writer Nelson Gidding.
Now Gidding had worked with Wise before on “I Want To Live” from 1958 so six months later he wrote a script comprising of elements of a nervous breakdown in the lead character Eleanor Vance.
It was later when meeting Ms. Shirley Jackson that she’d intended the story to have more supernatural elements but the concept of the breakdown Giddons had in mind still stuck.
Robert Wise chose Julie Harris for the role but also at that time the actress was suffering from depression and just seemed to have unbalanced relationships with the rest of the cast which as I recently watched the film noticed this extremely in the almost cruel way actress Claire Bloom as Theodora seemed to treat Eleonor or Julie There was almost no chemistry of freindship accept during the first night in the house.
Something else I learned which intrigues me is that the character of Theodora in the novel had more of a lesbian relationship towards Eleanor that Wise couldn’t portray on screen as due to censorship rules but was certainly mildly suggested in the scenes where Harris and Bloom were frightened together that first night as well.
The story of The Haunting begins of a narration of the house with creepy undertones along with a play-by-play re-enactment of the history of the house of Hugh Crain. Crain had a first wife that never fully made it to the house she died mysteriously in a carriage accident apparently the horses spooked and she died. Crain also had a daughter name of Abigail and as men do Hugh Crain married a second wife and one day no one really knows how it happened but this second Mrs Crain falls down the stairs… later Hugh Crain goes on a trip and drowns Mysteriously once again a strange happenstance.
Abigail Crain grows up and inherits the house, hires a local girl to become her companion. In her old age it’s said that whil the companion was with a lover Abigail died banging her cane on the wall for help and died alone.
The companion then inherited the home and is said to have never married but hung herself above the winding staircase.
A scientist by the name of John Markway has an interest in debunking the haunting and spirits in the home and seeks out Eleanor among others that have had abnormal situations happen to them.
Eleonor Vance’s mother has apparently died that she had taken to helping during a rather long sickness. We find her in the company of a sister who seems to hate and distrust her. Eleonor is determined to go to Hill House and does.
Throughout the entire film we are let in on Nell’s thoughts her forebodings her fears all apparent nervousness as well.
Tone of the film is set as the Dudleys the caretakers of the home seem to be as uninvited as the luminous windows of the manor as Eleonor feels is watching her.
we meet Thoodora an obviously worldly classy dame in furs and expensive clothing but later I find Claire Blooms acting almost stiff and cruel in nature. I fear the only two actors who seem rightly fit to play their roles were Russ Tamblyn who played Luke Sanderson as he was the comic relief relied on to carry some humor to the gloom.
The other being Richard Johnson playing the good doctor for this time period I feel he was correctly cast.
As far as Julie Harris I feel she was right for this role at the time and feel that because Eleanor was in fact having a nervous breakdown that Julie’s depression just played into the role.
Now Wise was apparently using a camera a 30mm that wasn’t quite ready for filming and had a distortion at times had to sign something to the effect he understood that the camera wasn’t entirely working correctly but it created a panning effect never used before in cinematography which makes me think this is more of an art house film.
It is my complete opinion that the story line is discombobulated and disjointed seems kind of slapped together and is by no means a masterpiece but appears to have landed a cult standing and is considered one of the greatest horror films of all time.
this being said I am of the latter and think not. It is curious that they use two different locations one being the grounds of and the outside of Ettington Park now the Ettington Park Hotel in Warrickshire but was in a studio in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire that the inside of the home took place.
Harris and Bloom apparently were frightened of Ettington Park as it was creepy on the outside so this is why the interior of the home wasn’t used.
Ultimately I enjoy it for its content and its storyline but it is confusing and doesn’t seem to connect in ways.
I know it’s well liked and enjoyed by most but I am certainly disapointed in this film seeing it again as I had as a child I see it with new Eyes.
Starring Julie Harris as Eleanor Lance, Claire Bloom as Theodora, Richard Johnson as Dr. John Markway, Russ Tamblyn as
Luke Sanderson, Fay Compton as
Mrs. Sanderson, Rosalie Crutchley as
Mrs. Dudley, Lois Maxwell as Grace Markway, Valentine as Mr. Dudley, Diane Clare as Carrie Fredericks, Ronald Adam as
Eldridge Harper, Pamela Buckley as
First Mrs. Crain (uncredited), Amy Dalby as Abigail Crain – Age 80 (uncredited), Rosemary Dorken as Abigail Crain’s Nurse-Companion (uncredited), Verina Greenlaw as Dora Fredericks (uncredited), Claude Jones as Garage Attendant (uncredited), Frieda Knorr as Second Mrs. Crain (uncredited), Howard Lang as Hugh Crain (uncredited), Janet Mansell as Abigail Crain – Age 6 (uncredited), Paul Maxwell as Bud Fredericks (uncredited), Susan Richards as Nurse (uncredited), Mavis Villiers as Landlady (uncredited).