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THE CHANGELING

Iím not a huge fan of haunted house movies, but this one is pretty good.  I donít believe itís a classic like many of you claim, just a well acted supernatural thriller done with a great deal of style and care. 

The Package 
     The Hungarian-born, England-based director Peter Medak has been quite prolific over the years, with a varied output that includes THE RULING CLASS (1972), THE KRAYS (1990), LET HIM HAVE IT (1991), ROMEO IS BLEEDING (1993) and SPECIES II (1998).  Medak directed 1979ís THE CHANGELING after a string of box office flops, telling one interviewer that the film, initially conceived as a quickie grade-B effort, was ďall the work I can getĒ. 
     1979 also marked a low point for the late George C. Scott, the once-distinguished headliner of classics like DR. STRANGELOVE and PATTON (for which he infamously refused to accept the Best Actor Oscar he won).  In Scottís later years his notoriously tempestuous personality and erratic choice of films, most notably his disastrous self-financed 1974 directorial effort THE SAVAGE IS LOOSE, meant he closed out his career appearing in undistinguished genre fare like FIRESTARTER, THE EXORCIST III and MALICE.  On THE CHANGELING, however, both he and Peter Medak gave their all, which is fully evident in the finished product.
     The film is also notable as one of several collaborations between George C. Scott and actress Trish Van DeVere (playing his love interest), who married in 1972 and remained so until Scottís 1999 demise.   

The Story 
     John, a distraught widower trying to get over the shocking deaths of his wife and young son, has just moved into a luxurious Seattle house thought by locals to be haunted.  He disbelieves the claims at first, but soon becomes convinced by the loud banging he hears each night.  He gets some local spiritualists to hold a sťance, and they uncover evidence of an unquiet spirit residing in the house named Joseph, who as a child was drowned in a bathtub seventy years earlier by his father.  John researches the lives of the houseís previous inhabitants and discovers it was occupied for many years by the Carmichaels, a wealthy clan whose offspring is now a high-powered senator.  John somehow deduces that Joseph, the ghost loose in the house, was the actual offspring, but was killed by his father, who then replaced him with another kid--a changeling.
     John tries to confront Senator Carmichael directly with his knowledge but is blown off, and later has his house investigated by a police officer...who upon driving away is killed in a suspicious accident.  Thinking the situation over, the senator calls a meeting with John, during which Johnís newfound girlfriend Claire enters his house and is harassed by its ghostly inhabitant.  The pissed-off Joseph then takes on Senator Carmichael directly and burns down the house--luckily John and Claire manage to escape in time. 

The Direction 
     The script, by Diana Maddox and genre specialist William Grey (HUMONGOUS, THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT), is serviceable at best, but Peter Medak helms with considerable skill, creating a compellingly subtle and atmospheric ghost story.  He favors wide angle lenses, a preference that occasionally gets out of hand (resulting in distorted images that distract, even in straightforward dialogue scenes), but overall the visuals are strong and expressive.  Medak also creates some good shock sequences, most memorably the sight of a dead child rising to the surface of a bathtub, and handles the special effects-packed climax with a fair amount of flair.
     In the lead role George C. Scott reminds us why he was hailed as one of Americaís finest actors, in a performance of considerable refinement and restraint (a rejoinder to those who think he spent the seventies and eighties recycling his PATTON role).  He plays an uncomplicated nice guy, yet still manages to make the character of John into a fully-rounded and compelling individual whose exploits seem worth following. 


Vital Statistics 

THE CHANGELING
Chessman Park/Tiberius Film Productions

Director: Peter Medak
Producer: Joel B. Michaels, Garth H. Drabinsky
Screenplay: William Gray, Diana Maddox
Cinematography: John Coquillon
Editing: Lilla Pedersen
Cast: George C. Scott, Trish Van DeVere, Melvyn Douglas, John Colicos, Jean Marsh, Barry Morse, Madeleine Sherwood, Helen Burns, Frances Hyland, Ruth Springford, Eric Christmas, Roberta Maxwell, Bernard Behrens, James B. Douglas
 


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