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In the first several scenes of the film, "Joel Delaney" appears to be "Norah Benson's" lover. He is not revealed to be her brother until the scene in which he is first arrested. A suggestion of an inappropriately intimate connection between the two continues throughout the film. Although some reviews state that the film ends with Norah possessed by "Tonio Perez's" spirit, that scene was not included in the print viewed.
In October 1972, Daily Variety reported that Shirley MacLaine and producer Martin Poll, with his company, Haworth Productions, had finalized plans to produce The Possession of Joel Delaney. Although that article stated that the screenplay had been written by Ramona Stewart, the author of the novel on which the film was based, she is not credited as the screenwriter in any source. The Daily Variety article also stated that the film would be distributed by British producer Lew Grade's Incorporated Television Company, also known as ATV-ITC. In March 1972, however, Variety reported that Paramount Pictures had acquired the finished picture for U.S. and Canadian distribution. ITC fully funded the production, the second of two with MacLaine after 1971's Desperate Characters. For more information on the business relationship between MacLaine and Grade, see the record for Desperate Characters.
Poll exited the project after the first month of filming, according to a February 1971 Daily Variety news item, because he and MacLaine were "at odds." Although Filmfacts lists Haworth as a production company, the extent of the company's contribution to the final film is unknown. A December 1970 Hollywood Reporter article quoted the film's budget at $1.5 million. As noted onscreen, the film was shot on location in New York City, and contemporary sources noted that interiors were shot in London.
Although an onscreen credit states that Perry King made his feature film debut in The Possession of Joel Delaney, he also appeared in the 1972 picture Slaughterhouse-Five (see below), which was shot after The Possession of Joel Delaney but released one month earlier. Barbara Trentham also made her acting debut in The Possession of Joel Delaney. A modern source adds Jason Holt, Renee Semes and Pat Ast to the cast. Although Michael Hordern is referred to in studio publicity materials as "Dr. Reichman," onscreen he is credited as "Justin," the husband of "Erika Lorenz."
The New York Times review noted that a Spanish-language version of the film opened concurrently with its English-language New York opening on May 24, 1972. Reviews were generally poor, with many pointing out the inherent racism in the script. Despite this, after appearing at the Berlin Film Festival during the week of June 23, 1972, The Possession of Joel Delaney was nominated for the Berlin Golden Bear award.