Kathy Bates in Misery (1990)
We were just recently talking about how Stephen King was very displeased with the film version of his novel “The Shining” (1980) because he felt it did not capture the main character’s descent into madness. Ten years later came “Misery,” a film adaptation of King’s 1987 novel, that perfectly captured the insanity of the character, Annie Wilkes, played by Kathy Bates.
Annie Wilkes is a former nurse who rescues a famous writer named Paul Sheldon (James Caan) after he crashes his car during a Colorado blizzard. Paul is seriously injured and she takes him back to her secluded home where she tends to his smashed legs and says she’ll take him to the hospital as soon as the roads clear. Paul is the author of a popular romance series that revolves around a woman named Misery Chastain.
At this point in his life, he has just written his last “Misery” book because he is sick of the series and feels it is preventing him from reaching his potential as a serious writer. Thus, the heroine dies in childbirth in “Misery’s Child.” Now free of his albatross, Paul checked into the Silver Creek Lodge in Colorado to work on a different genre that would point his career in a new direction. He got caught in the blizzard after he checked out and headed back home.
At first, Annie Wilkes seems like a perfectly normal person and capable nurse despite little hints no one in Paul’s position would get alarmed about. She tells Paul that she is his No. 1 fan. She admits that she found him because she was following him, but Paul knows he would have died if she had not found him. What can he be but grateful? Little by little, Paul realizes that Annie is just not all there and he has to be careful about what he says to her. After Annie reads “Misery’s Child” and learns of Misery’s death, she goes full psycho and Paul must rely upon his wits and building up his physical strength to the extent that he can if he is to have any chance of surviving this nightmare.
Kathy Bates won the Best Actress Oscar in 1991 for her performance, beating out Julia Roberts in “Pretty Women,” Anjelica Huston in “The Grifters,” Meryl Streep in “Postcards from the Edge,” and Joanne Woodward in “Mr. & Mrs. Bridge.” According to the trivia on IMDB, Mary Tyler Moore wanted to play Annie. Anjelica Huston, Jessica Lange, Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand and Debra Winger were all considered for the role. Given that there are comical touches in the movie, we think the movie would have turned out campy with any other choice than Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes. For example, it’s funny when Annie gets all worked up about “Rocket Man” but funny in a scary way. Paul becomes acutely aware that contradicting Annie is a horrible idea, even over something as simple as calling “chapter plays” cliffhangers.
Oddly enough, Jack Nicholson was offered the role of Paul Sheldon but turned it down. His casting in “The Shining” is what ruined that film for me and I can’t see him in this role. Before James Caan got the role, William Goldman (who wrote the screenplay) said the Paul Sheldon role was declined by William Hurt, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Gene Hackman, Robert Redford and Warren Beatty. Can’t see any of them in that role either. Goldman also said Kevin Kline and Richard Dreyfuss turned it down. However that would have worked out, James Caan did a fine job of conveying the gamut of emotions that his character went through.
Other notable characters in the film:
Lauren Bacall played Paul Sheldon’s literary agent, Marcia Sindell. She alerted the Sheriff that Paul was missing when he failed to give her a call or return from his work vacation.
Richard Farnsworth played Buster, the Sheriff who continues to investigate into Paul’s whereabouts even after he is presumed dead. Some may recognize Farnsworth as Matthew Cuthbert, the brother of Marilla (Collen Dewhurst) in “Anne of Green Gables” (1985).
Frances Sternhagen played Virginia, Buster’s wife, a character that was not in the Stephen King novel.
Misery the Pig was Annie Wilkes’ pet