JACK NICHOLSON (Jack Torrance): “The Shining” was the first time that Nicholson really let loose. We’d seen hints of his madness in other movies like “Five Easy Pieces” or “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”, but nothing that comes close to the “I don’t want to hurt you, I just want to bash your brains in! BWAHAHAHA!!!” moment from “The Shining”. Since then, much of Nicholson’s work has, for better or worse, riffed off of his performance here. But what a performance though! A lot of people thought Jack was overacting, but that’s like saying Anthony Hopkins was overacting as Lecter in “Silence of The Lambs”. He played the part in the manner it deserved, with a raw and passionate intensity. Once you’ve seen his interpretation, it’s hard to imagine it done any other way.
The role has followed him throughout his life and is arguably the defining performance in Jack Nicholson’s career. Not because it’s his best, it’s not, but because it makes people suspect that he’s not acting. You know that you’ve hit a nerve when the public confuses your role with your personality and that’s how convincing Nicholson was here. As over the top as he played it, the audience didn’t see it as wholly unrealistic.
If you want more proof of how memorable Nicholson was in the role, try this: Go up to anyone and say “Heeeeeeeere’s Johnny!” then ask him or her which famous person said that. I bet three out of ten will say Nicholson. Ed McMahon said it about half a billion times yet the line is still often attributed to Jack who only said it once and that my friends is called making an impression on people.
STEVEN WEBER (Jack Torrance): I know, I know… Steven Weber. When I first saw him in the miniseries I couldn’t get the “Wings” theme song out of my head. You know what though? Weber’s not bad. I know it sounds like I’m trying to kiss a*s, but Weber shows a fair degree of range here and I wouldn’t be reticent to see him in another serious role in the future. Hell, remember how ridiculous it seemed to have Woody Harrelson in “Natural Born Killers”? Look at how that turned out. Weber’s got that same quality in him, where he can look sadistic at the drop of a hat; and he puts it to good use. There’s a couple of moments where his sitcom roots peek through, but it’s nothing too distracting. Overall he’s surprisingly good.
SHELLEY DUVALL (Wendy Torrance): Duvall is a much better actress than her paper thin role in “The Shining” would have you believe. Of course, after watching that “Making of The Shining” documentary I’m not so sure she was acting at all. She’d been going through a bad breakup and looked so horribly depressed that it was scary. There’s just something about seeing the woman listlessly pluck out her hair and show it to Stanley Kubrick that creeps me out every time. Unlike Nicholson, who was acting when people thought he wasn’t, Duvall wasn’t acting even though people thought she was. You know those scenes at the end when she’s crying so hard that she can barely talk? I’m not too sure that it’s fake. I think that it’s Stanley Kubrick’s 953rd take of the exact same scene taking its toll on Shelley’s already fragile sanity. Of the entire original cast, she’s the only one to be outdone by her remake doppelganger.
REBECCA DE MORNAY (Wendy Torrance): It’s a shame De Mornay was never a bigger star; she’s a good actress. Wendy Torrance was always an underwritten role no matter which version of the movie, but De Mornay does quite well with the character and is very naturalistic in her performance. One of the problems facing any actor in a King scripted movie, is his very Maine-ish way of having his character’s speak. De Mornay simply doesn’t sound like she’d say, “Get away fly” when she’s annoyed at her husband, but she says it anyway and no one cringes too much at the awkwardness of the line. That ability alone is reason enough to classify her as a damn fine thespian.
DANNY LLOYD (Danny Torrance): For someone who only acted in one movie, then a bit part in a TV movie about G. Gordon Liddy, Danny Lloyd sure created a legacy. He’s arguably the prototype for the “strangely adult kid with the haunted eyes” that’s in every damn remake of a Japanese horror movie nowadays. Some people might say that the honor goes to Damien from “The Omen”, but I think Richard Donner had Harvey Stephens playing a male version of the little girl in “The Bad Seed”. So, if there’s any justice in the world, Haley Joel Osmond and David Dorfman will be sending him a nice Christmas card this year.
In any case, the praise isn’t unwarranted; Lloyd is the best kind of child actor. He’s unselfconscious and never calls attention to himself. Most child actors, no matter what they’re supposed to be playing, look as if they’re moments away from breaking out into “Hi mom” waves at the camera; but not Lloyd. This is even more impressive given the fact that Kubrick never told the boy he was in a horror movie.
COURTLAND MEAD (Danny Torrance): Mead is comfortable in front of the camera and he’s got a knack for what he’s doing but he’s too much of a sitcom type kid. He’s acting for the camera. He knows it and more importantly, we can see it. It’s just little things like the tone and volume of his voice or the way he looks at the other actors. It’s a dead giveaway. Sadly, he’s nothing like Lloyd who acts circles around him. Also, he’s too cute to be in a horror movie, you want to pinch his wittle cheeks every time he’s on camera. That doesn’t exactly heighten the terror, you know?
SCATMAN CROTHERS (Dick Hallorann): He’s the proof that a character doesn’t need a complex backstory if the actor portraying him has enough personality. You can see Hallorann’s long and heavy past just from one look at Crother’s face. The history isn’t in the words he says but the way he says it. Crother’s didn’t just play the part; he embodied a personality that fit the role perfectly.
MELVIN VAN PEEBLES (Dick Hallorann): I don’t know if he was better or worse than Crothers, such is my affection for the Scatman, but I will say that I never once compared Peebles to his predecessor. He took the character and made him his own. Where Scatman played him as the last of the wandering Jazzmen, Van Peebles plays Hallorann as a bluesman in retirement. They’re separated by decades, but they’ve got the same soul.
One negative though, but it’s a biggie: Peebles overacts whenever Danny shines Hallorann. I mean REALLY badly overacts. I’m talking “OHHHH THE HUMANITY!” and throw yourself on the ground with your eyes bugging out type of thing here. Considering that the rest of his acting is competent, I’ll chalk it up as a fluke.
The story continues in part three of THE SHINING VS. THE SHINING>>>