Derek Winnert

The Shining ***** (1980, Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Anne Jackson, Joe Turkel, Philip Stone) – Classic Movie Review 85


Jack Nicholson’s barnstorming, grandstanding performance dominates Stanley Kubrick’s superlative 1980 chiller, based (remotely) on the Stephen King novel. Nicholson plays Jack Torrance, a slick but rather seedy loser who is hired by smooth hotel boss Stuart Ullman (creepily played by Barry Nelson) to be the winter caretaker of The Overlook, a huge, posh, vintage hotel for rich folks in the remote Colorado mountains.


Ominously, Nelson mentions the stresses of this lonely job that had led a predecessor to commit murder. Nelson settles Nicholson, his highly-strung wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and haunted young son Danny (Danny Lloyd) into the hotel as the last guests and staff are leaving. Once the snows have set in, it’s sealed off from the world till spring, but there is an old timer, Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers), on hand to dispense advice and conveniently explain the film’s title – a telepathic gift.


While supposedly looking after things out of season, Nicholson’s trying to write a novel, but is suffering writer’s block, just typing ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’, while going crazier and crazier. Soon, he appears to be having disturbing visions somehow linked to Room 237 and two young girls – and so does his son – and finally he goes on the rampage, trying to attack his wife and kid, axe in hand (‘here’s Johnny!’).


With a fantastic production, marvellous cinematography and brilliant music, obsessive director Kubrick ensures this is a mesmerising, haunting movie, as brilliant and enigmatic as his 2001 A Space Odyssey, to which it’s a companion piece. He conjures up the sinister atmosphere of the deserted hotel in winter beautifully and keeps a long, sometimes talky movie tense, nailbiting, buoyant and dynamic with thrillingly controlled Steadicam filming.


You can hardly keep your eyes off Nicholson, pitching it somewhere between great screen acting and self-caricature in a dazzlingly hysterical, unsettling performance. But all the other virtues of the film really do shine through, and Kubrick knows how to manage some sudden scares and bursts of violence that really deliver the goods.


Duvall is also admirable as the squeaky lady in peril, the six-year-old Lloyd brings the right eerie quality to the kid (‘Redrum, Redrum!’), Crothers is a model of warm and wise, Philip Stone is creepy as an old retainer called Delbert Grady. Adding to texture in small roles, Anne Jackson adds authority in her one little scene as the boy’s doctor/child psychologist and Joe Turkel is fun as Lloyd the barman.


This is that rarest of things, a horror film of true, extraordinary quality and a puzzle movie that has no one answer and keeps audiences guessing forever but still isn’t annoying. Almost unbelievably, the isolated hotel and the snowy exteriors were all created meticulously in the studio – Elstree, north London. There was no aircon in the studio, so the actors were sweltering even in the snowy exterior scenes. It was the same studio Kubrick filmed Lolita in, back in 1961.


Kubrick hacked 27 minutes out of The Shining for European release after its tepid box-office in the US, and this version run at 119 minutes, but in October 2012, the British Film Institute finally released the full 146-minute original version for the first time in British cinemas. The cut US TV version runs at 142 minutes. Three days after the release of the film, Kubrick ordered all cinema projectionists to cut two minutes from the end of the film and return the footage to Warner Brothers.


Danny Lloyd was picked because he look right and could concentrate for extended periods. Because he was only seven, he was closely guarded by Kubrick during filming and didn’t know it was a horror film until several years later. Despite his notoriety and fame for his line ‘Redrum! Redrum!’, Danny made no other cinema movie. After filming one TV movie in 1982, he said he didn’t fancy an acting career. He’s now a science teacher in Missouri.


In November 2013, horror director David Cronenberg caused a rumpus: ‘I find The Shining not to be a great film. I don’t think Kubrick understood the horror genre. I don’t think he understood what he was doing. There were some striking images in the book and he got that, but I don’t think he really felt it.’


Anne Jackson, who was married to Eli Wallach (1915–2014), died on April 12 2016 in Manhattan, aged 90.


© Derek Winnert 2013 Classic Movie Review 85

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