Cast & Crew
Recently divorced from her surgeon husband, Manhattan socialite Norah Benson attends a party at the home of psychiatrist Erika Lorenz and her husband Justin. With her is her younger brother, freelance writer Joel Delaney, who has recently returned from a trip to Tangiers and who is assumed by some guests to be Norah's new lover. Soon, Sherry Talbot enters and embraces Joel as Norah watches disapprovingly. The next morning, the overprivileged Norah dispenses orders to her Puerto Rican maid Veronica and readies her preteen children, Carrie and Peter, for school. Joel chafes under Norah's constant attentions and soon after, does not show up for dinner, prompting her to visit his apartment in Spanish Harlem. Outside, she discovers the police arresting Joel, who has been accused of trying to kill his landlord. He is taken to Bellevue Hospital, where she haughtily attempts to gain information on his treatment, but when the staff refuses to cooperate, she calls her former husband Ted, who reluctantly comes to the hospital with his new wife Marta. After learning that Joel is under sedation and will be transferred to the psychiatric ward, Ted races off to the theater. Concerned about Joel's cat, Norah goes to his apartment, where she is frightened and out of place in her expensive furs. After obtaining a key from the landlord, she surveys the squalor of the apartment, which contains a switchblade and an image painted on the wall of a hand with a torn palm. Just then, Sherry enters, callously stating that Joel is plagued by a "dark side" and probably tried to kill himself. Later, Norah visits her brother in the psychiatric ward, where he claims to have no memory of the attack and vows that he does no drugs. Upon learning, however, that he will be released if he "admits" to taking LSD, moves in with Norah and sees a psychiatrist regularly, he agrees. At his first session with Erika, he looks out her window and imagines the image of the torn palm, then tells her that he feels perfectly sane. At her prompting, he tells her about his best friend, the former inhabitant of the apartment, Tonio Perez, with whom Joel feels a strong kinship despite their dissimilar backgrounds. Back at Norah's house, he roughhouses affectionately with her and asks about her love life, but then criticizes her for being unworldly, hurting her feelings. That night, he attends a wild party with Sherry and then makes love with her. The next day is his birthday and Sherry comes to Norah's to celebrate. After he receives joke presents from the children, Norah toasts him, becoming uncomfortable when Sherry indicates that she and Joel are lovers. When Norah notices that Sherry has lost her earring, Joel pretends to "conjure" it, reciting a phony spell. Suddenly, he is transfixed and leads the children dancing into the street until he easily locates the earring on her car seat. Back inside, Joel grabs the birthday cake and places it in front of Sherry, caressing her until Norah tells him to stop. Angry, he spews a tirade in fluent Spanish, causing Veronica, the only one to understand him, to leave in haste. Sherry also leaves quickly, after which Joel tells Norah that he does not speak Spanish. The next day, Norah visits Sherry to return her earring, and finds her decapitated head hanging by her hair from the bedpost. Police detective Brady arrives at Norah's soon after and informs her that the murder is very similar to three cases from the previous summer, in which Puerto Rican girls were decapitated and hung by their hair. Tonio was suspected of those crimes, but has since disappeared. Now suspecting Joel, the detective brings him in for questioning. At the library, Norah studies the murders, then calls home, learning from Carrie that Veronica has quit. Norah takes a cab to Veronica's and begs her to talk. Refusing to allow Norah in her home, Veronica states bitingly that she also has a life worthy of privacy, but reluctantly gives Norah the name of Don Pedro, who works at a local botanica. There, the Puerto Rican customers stare at Norah, who offers to pay Don Pedro for his services, earning his disdain. Seeing her concern, however, he finally agrees to hold a séance the following day, stating that everyone there already knows about "the situation." At home, Joel's door is locked but Norah hears voices inside speaking Spanish. After unlocking the door, Joel tells her that he was released by the police because he was in Tangiers when the three earlier murders occurred, but will not answer her questions about Tonio. Norah then meets with Erika, who informs her that Joel and Tonio's friendship is based on the fact that both were abandoned as children, Joel by their mother, who had several mental breakdowns and then committed suicide. When Norah contends that she always took care of him, Erika points out that Joel felt dominated by both their mother and her. The next day, Norah goes to Don Pedro's, where Tonio's mother informs her that Tonio died six months earlier. When Mrs. Perez and Don Pedro state that Tonio's spirit has entered Joel's body, Norah is incredulous, but Mrs. Perez tearfully explains that after being abandoned by his father, Tonio lived with his grandmother, turning evil after she died. He killed the three girls and his brother, after which her husband killed Tonio. Dazed but desperate, Norah agrees to the séance, during which Don Pedro will attempt to transfer Tonio's spirit from Joel to someone else in the room. Others arrive and greet Don Pedro ritualistically, then light candles and incense, dance, chant and drink. One man seems possessed, but despite a long, violent attempt, Don Pedro fails to dislodge Tonio. Promising to return with Joel, a weakened Norah leaves. At home, she finds the children waiting outside in terror, with Joel locked inside the apartment, screaming. Norah runs to Erika in near hysterics and informs her about the séance. Upon learning that Tonio is dead, Erika realizes the extent of Joel's delusion and advises Norah to take the children out of town immediately while she arranges for Joel to be hospitalized. As Norah and the children speed to their beach house, Justin leaves town on a work trip, and Joel slips into their apartment. The next day, Norah enters the beach house kitchen and finds Erika's head on the refrigerator. Joel, fully possessed by Tonio, is dressed in black leather with his hair slicked back and speaking heavily accented English. Over the next few hours, brandishing his knife, he terrorizes Norah and the children, preparing to kill them. Finally, Norah sees Ted pull up outside with the police, but knowing the children are at risk, the police remain outside while inside Joel continues his torture. After forcing Peter to strip, stating that he was always cold as a child, he instructs Norah to push Carrie's face into dog food, declaring that he has already killed their dog. When he cuts Carrie's neck, Norah finally explodes, trying to choke him, and although he easily overcomes and beats her, the children are able to escape outside. Joel follows screaming, and as soon as the children are safe with their father, the police shoot Joel. As he writhes in the sand, Norah cradles his head until he dies.
Edmundo Rivera Alvarez
Dino Di Campo
Frances Wolf Newman
Arthur J. Ornitz
John Victor Smith
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.
Released in United States 1972
Released in United States on Video February 26, 1992
No producer credit is given, although Martin Poll was in on the production from its inception.
Released in United States 1972
Released in United States on Video February 26, 1992