Tag Archives: Shirley Jackson

The Lottery (1969, Larry Yust)

The Lottery has a lot of mood. Isidore Mankofsky’s lucid but muted cinematography captures a routine day, not even special with an entire small town gathering in a large field. Director Yust has a few favorite touchstones among the townspeople, though only until the lottery itself starts. Then he concentrates on faces and expressions, as many as possible. Editor Albert Naples cuts quick between them, going faster the less expression the person shows.

Unfortunately, Naples’s editing is only sometimes effective. Yust’s direction of the cast–speaking or not–isn’t good. There are three main performances and only William ‘Billy’ Benedict is any good. Olive Dunbar has problematic writing and there’s only so much she can do at the end, when the “winner” is announced. William Fawcett is bad as the grumpy old man bemoaning young people and their lack of respect for the lottery.

Yust gives a handful of lines to various townspeople to try to show the routine of the events and their lives. He doesn’t give them actual conversations and cut into them, he just gives them lines. Then there’s the soundtrack, silent of background conversation or even breathing. Just the wind picking up. The silence should be effective–and would be if the acting were better or if Naples’s quick cutting built to anything. Maybe the silent background is so Yust could give the non-professionals direction? But if he did give them direction during those shots… well, it’s almost more concerning than if he didn’t.

The Lottery was made to be shown in classrooms (high school but probably younger–I think I saw it in middle) and Yust’s ideas for getting around the difficult parts don’t succeed. He’s too afraid to really characterize the gathered townspeople (and probably couldn’t direct them if their characterizations were better). The Lottery only exists for its eighteen minutes; Yust doesn’t imagine anything beyond it.

But Benedict’s real good.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Larry Yust; screenplay by Yust, based on the story by Shirley Jackson; director of photography, Isidore Mankofsky; edited by Albert Nalpas; released by Encyclopædia Britannica Educational Corporation.

Starring Olive Dunbar (Tessie Hutchinson), William ‘Billy’ Benedict (Joe Summers), William Fawcett (Old Man Warner), and Joe Haworth (Bill Hutchinson).


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Lizzie (1957, Hugo Haas)

Lizzie is about lead Eleanor Parker’s struggle with multiple personality disorder. More accurately perhaps, Lizzie is about Parker’s multiple personality disorder. As a protagonist, Parker disappears fairly quickly into the film’s eighty minute runtime. She doesn’t even get to open the film; it introduces her through other characters’ expository conversation.

Screenwriter Mel Dinelli, quite unfortunately, often relies on expository conversation.

When Parker is the lead, however, Lizzie is in pretty good shape. Even though Parker’s alternate personalities are a little shallow as far as characterization goes, Parker’s performance is strong. Even she can’t do anything with the hallucination sequences though. Lizzie is a technical mess. Director Haas (who gives himself a supporting acting role, which I’ll get to in a bit) has three directorial modes. Some of Lizzie, when the film is just watching Parker act, feels experimental and edgy. Unfortunately, it contrasts with Haas’s inept handling of regular sequences. Lizzie doesn’t have much of a budget and the sets are bad, something Haas and cinematographer Paul Ivano aggravate. But then Haas and Ivano also go for foreboding mood, with the inept assistance of composer Leith Stevens, and Lizzie feels even more uneven.

As Parker’s psychiatrist, Richard Boone doesn’t have much to do but he’s sincere in the performance. There’s even a scene where Parker tries to draw him out a little, allow him room for personality and Boone demurs. Like I said before, Dinelli’s script is a mess.

As Parker’s suffering aunt, Joan Blondell is good. She starts out as a shrill harpy, but eventually Blondell is able to do something with the part. Haas, as an actor, is her mooning sidekick.

Lizzie has some great acting from Parker, who unfortunately proves no matter how fine a performance, when something is dramatically inert, there’s no way to get it moving.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Hugo Haas; screenplay by Mel Dinelli, based on a novel by Shirley Jackson; director of photography, Paul Ivano; edited by Leon Barsha; music by Leith Stevens; produced by Jerry Bresler; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Eleanor Parker (Elizabeth Richmond), Richard Boone (Dr. Neal Wright), Joan Blondell (Aunt Morgan), Hugo Haas (Walter Brenner), Ric Roman (Johnny Valenzo), Marion Ross (Ruth Seaton) and Johnny Mathis (Piano Singer).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 2: TECHNICOLOR.

The Haunting (1963, Robert Wise)

What makes The Haunting so good–besides Wise’s wondrous Panavision composition–is the characters. Yes, it succeeds as a horror film, with great internal dialogue (Julie Harris’s character’s thoughts drive the first twenty minutes alone and the device never feels awkward), but those successes are nothing compared to the character interactions.

The Haunting chooses to be both definite and understated with the truth behind its supernatural elements. Gidding structures his conversations about the supernatural very carefully, leaving the viewer to constantly question previous events, creating a palpable uneasiness.

In that uneasiness, Gidding is able to create these evolving character relationships. The one between Harris and Claire Bloom is, for example, the practical backbone of the entire picture. It allows Harris’s character to, for lack of a less cute term, bloom. But the relationship is in constant flux, especially since the audience hears a lot of what goes on in Harris’s head–but not Bloom’s. It’s very interesting to see what Gidding is going to come up with, in the dialogue, next.

The structure of the opening–the film starts with Richard Johnson introducing the haunted house aspect of the story, then moves entirely to Harris for a while–gives Wise and Gidding a fine opportunity to introduce the characters to each other and they fully utilize it. There isn’t a single character without a unique dynamic with another–lots of the Haunting is four people in a room talking (Russ Tamblyn being the fourth).

Also superior is Humphrey Searle’s score.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Robert Wise; screenplay by Nelson Gidding, based on a novel by Shirley Jackson; director of photography, Davis Boulton; edited by Ernest Walter; music by Humphrey Searle; production designer, Elliot Scott; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer.

Starring Julie Harris (Nell), Claire Bloom (Theo), Richard Johnson (Dr. John Markway), Russ Tamblyn (Luke Sanderson), Fay Compton (Mrs. Sanderson), Rosalie Crutchley (Mrs. Dudley), Lois Maxwell (Grace Markway), Valentine Dyall (Mr. Dudley), Diane Clare (Carrie Fredericks) and Ronald Adam (Eldridge Harper).


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