Misery (1990): Bob Reiner’s Thriller, Starring Kathy Bates and James Caan–Collector Edition

The DVD Collector’s Edition contains commentary from director Bob Reiner, who discusses the casting. While Kathy Bates was always “my first and only choice,” James Caan was not.

Reiner was turned down by most leading men at the time, including Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman Warren Beatty, Gene Hackman, and even Richard Dreyfuss. Reiner also shares that the strong hobbling scene is still considered by many fans as one of the “nastiest ad most gruesome” moments seen in a Hollywood movie.

Reportedly, the filmmakers were aware of the flat, unconvincing and pedestrian ending, which is an anti-climax. In his observations, the scribe William Goldman admits that, “we were scrambling there.”

Other extras include an how-to segment called “Advice for the Stalked,” with banal ideas like “If that stalker calls, you hang up, quickly.” And a psychological essay titled, “Diagnosing Annie Wilkes,” about the protag’s bi-polar syndrome

Film Review

Bob Reiners well-made adaptation of Stephen Kings novella by Oscar-winning scribe William Goldman (All the Presidents Men) about a male author trapped by his own female creation is satisfying both as a horror flick and psychological thriller.

In one of his better roles after The Godfather movies, James Caan plays Paul Sheldon, the writer of a commercially successful romantic novel about Misery Chastain. Among his fans is a psychotic reader named Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), who claims she is willing to do anything for himeven die.

Problem begins when Annie finds out that Shedlon has killed off his series of Misery novels in order to write more serious and important books. Nothing would satisfy Annie more than taking Sheldon with her.

Director Bob Reiner, who previously adopted the Kings novella Stand By Me, does a good job of bringing the gallows humor to the surface as well as highlighting the gory horror in Kings grisly tale.

The film is more interesting and dynamic early on, when Sheldon faces off in a test of artistic (and physical) mettle against Wilkes, who turns out to be his toughest editora nightmare version of every working author, a woman who demands explanations and accountability from fiction writers!

The second half, with Sheldon captured, incarcerated and tortured in Annies house is less successful, often feeling forced, derivative and way too long.

Even so, the film earns easily the joy of watching its perverse climax, a survival battle between Sheldon and Annie that degenerates into horror movie clichs, just one notch above Friday the 13th and other similar flicks. Except that the gender reversal works extremely well.

Though there are skillful actors in cameo rolesFrances Sternhagen, Lauren Bacall, and particularly Richard FarnsworthMisery is very much a two-handler melodrama, with at least half of the screen time shared by Caan and Bates, who make the most out of the roles.

Caan meets the challenge of spending most of the time bedridden and immobile, tortured by Bates Annie. He gives a satisfyingly physical performance.

Kathy Bates, then mostly known as a stage actress, gives a powerhouse Oscar-winning performance, replete with ironic touches that enrich and subvert Kings horror yarn. Mixing wit, cleverness, energy and physical force, she gives the film a stronger dimension of psychological realism, elevating the film way above the books trepidations, particularly the pat resolution that many critics and audiences complained about.

It may or may not be a coincidence that Misery was released just two years after Fatal Attraction, another film boasting a strong, bitchy, bi-polar heroine who demands her right to exist and be taken seriously.

I saw the film at a press screening, but friends who saw it in movie theaters reported of spontaneous screams for revenge from the viewerskill the bitchbringing out the same primal instincts that Fatal Attraction did in its climactic battle between the two women.

Lines to Remember

Annie Wilkes: “I don’t remember him getting out of the cockadoodie car!”

Oscar Alert

In 1990, Kathy Bates won the Best Actress Oscar in a competition race that included Anjelica Huston in “The Grifters,” Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman,” Meryl Streep in “Postcards from the Edge,” and Joanne Woodward in “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge.”

Cast

Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates)
Paul Sheldon (James Caan)
Sheriff Buster (Richard Farnsworth)
Virginia (Frances Sternhagen)
Maria Sindell (Lauren Bacall)
Libby (Graham Davis)
Pete (Jerry Potter)
Anchorman (Tom Brunette)
Anchorwoman (June Christopher)
Waitress 9Wendy Bowers)

Credits

MPAA Rating: R
Running time; 107 Minutes

Produced byRob Reiner, Andrew Scheinman, Steve Nicolaides, Jeffrey Stott.
Directed by Bob Reiner.
Screenplay: William Goldman, based on the novel by Stephen king.
Camera: Barry Sonnenfeld
Editor: Robert Leighton
Music: Marc Shaiman
Production Design: Norman Garwood
Art director: Mark Mansbridge
Costume design: Gloria Gersham
F/X: Phil Cory