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Audrey Rose

Audrey Rose(1977)

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teaser Audrey Rose (1977)

Director Robert Wise is best known for his involvement in two of film's most successful musicals, West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965). For movie buffs, however, his greatest achievements were in the horror genre for flicks such as The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945), and The Haunting (1963). In 1977 Wise carried on this tradition with Audrey Rose, an unsettling tale about the doomed reincarnated soul of a little girl. Starring Anthony Hopkins, Marsha Mason, and newcomer Susan Swift, the film is based on the novel of the same name by Frank De Felitta, who also penned the script. He attributed the idea for the story to an otherworldly experience of his own child. At six years old, De Felitta's son began playing ragtime tunes on the piano one day, an instrument he had never learned. Convinced his son's ability was the result of an "incarnation leak", De Felitta began exploring the concept of reincarnation in his writing.

Audrey Rose takes a much darker turn than De Felitta's strange experience with his six-year-old son; it is the story of an eleven-year old girl named Ivy Templeton who begins to have horrific visions of a violent death. Her parents, played by Marsha Mason and John Beck, are at a loss as to the origins of her behavior, until a mysterious stranger - Hopkins--turns up. The stranger explains that his daughter, named Audrey Rose, died in a tragic accident moments before Ivy's birth. Hopkins' contention is that Ivy is the reincarnated soul of his dead child.

"I don't think we're going to prove reincarnation in this picture, but I'm very open to the whole possibility of the supernatural, the paranormal, the possibility of dimensions out there," Wise commented during filming in 1976. Anticipating a heady task in persuading his audience of these concepts, Wise took an unprecedented approach to production; he built in one week of rehearsal prior to shooting for the four leads. "It's always a big help when you have a chance to do that, the director stated in Robert Wise on His Films. "Not just read through the script, but actually rehearse the scenes to see how they play. The reason you don't get to do that in movies is because it costs money.....That's very hard for studios to accept. In this particular instance, it just meant paying those four [Hopkins, Beck, Mason & Swift] for an additional week. Audrey Rose is the only film in which I had a full week of rehearsal before shooting."

Susan Swift, who played the role of Ivy Templeton/Audrey Rose, was an inexperienced actor making her film debut in a very challenging part so Wise hired a specialized acting coach to work with her. Hopkins and Mason, both seasoned stage actors, were open to the experimentalist environment of the film - Wise recalls them as "very much into other-world thinking." Hopkins recalled in his biography by Quentin Falk that Mason was "a much more fervent seeker of truth than I am or was. I accept anything now and don't search as much as I used to. Then I was caught up with all that stuff, such as the manifestation and spiritualization of individual particles of God."

Both Los Angeles and New York City were used for locations in Audrey Rose. The scene where Hopkins informs Beck and Mason about his dead daughter took place at Valentino's on Pico, a popular restaurant in L.A. The car crash sequence was filmed on an unopened stretch of highway in New Jersey and a scene at the zoo and the exterior of Ivy's school were shot in New York.

Wise took great pains to achieve a certain balance in Audrey Rose explaining, "Mine is a prepared approach with ample room for improvising as we go along." The director described one example of this improvisation in Robert Wise on His Films: "We had a sequence in the bedroom between Marsha Mason and John Beck in which they get to a very high, angry pitch, and it wasn't right somehow as written in the script. I suggested that at the end of the day's shooting we get John and Marsha into the bedroom and just let them improvise the scene to see what they could come up with. They got into a really tough argument, much better than the one we had. Frank De Felitta had a tape recorder and he taped everything. Later, he went back to his office and rewrote the entire scene, taking elements that the actors had come up with in the improvisation. That's one of the few times I've ever done that kind of thing and it worked."

Audrey Rose was evenly panned and praised following its release; even almost twenty-five years later, critics have a hard time deciding if Audrey Rose was a triumph or failure for Wise. Certainly the film had some overt competition at the time of its release: Audrey Rose was a markedly different child character than those found in The Exorcist (1973) or The Omen (1976). And Wise was not seeking to shock his audience; instead, he was inviting them to explore a darker side of the unknown. Incidentally, the picture of Audrey Rose on the paperback version of De Felitta's novel is a photograph of a young Brooke Shields. Shields, however, obviously had no part in the film.

Producer: Joe Wizan, Frank De Felitta
Director: Robert Wise
Screenplay: Frank De Felitta
Art Direction: Harry Horner Cinematography: Victor J. Kemper
Editing: Carl Kress
Music: Michael Small
Cast: Marsha Mason (Janice Templeton), Anthony Hopkins (Elliot Hoover), John Beck (Bill Templeton), Susan Swift (Ivy Templeton), Norman Lloyd (Dr. Steven Lipscomb), John Hillerman (Scott Velie), Robert Walden (Brice Mock).

by Eleanor Quin

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