Air Date: Jan. 28, 1972 (CBS)
Production Companies: Metromedia Producers Corporation (MPC)
Running Time: 74 min.
Available on: YouTube
Written by: Art Wallace
Directed by: Delbert Mann
Cast: Patty Duke, David McCallum, Dorothy McGuire, Lew Ayres, Beulah Bondi, James T. Callahan
The headline here is that She Waits (1972) was written by Art Wallace, the man who created the bible for Dark Shadows and wrote its first 40 episodes, plus many more after that, including those introducing the reluctant vampire, Barnabas Collins. Here, he focuses strictly on ghosts. The story isn’t quite as soapy as Dark Shadows, but it does have secrets, a surprise at the end, and a melodramatic conclusion.
A more specific plot point that the two stories have in common is a music box that a man gives to his lover. In Dark Shadows, of course, Barnabas gives it to Josette DuPres. In She Waits, Mark Wilson (David McCallum) gives it to his wife at the time, Elaine… or does he? (Spoiler Alert! That’s part of the secret, the surprise, and the melodramatic conclusion.) In both, it’s not as much the music box itself that’s important, as it is the melody.
I keep mentioning Elaine without providing the actress that portrays her. That’s because Elaine died two years ago and we never see her. Well, we never physically see her. We hear her and see her open windows and close doors. Whom we see is Mark’s new wife, Laura (Patty Duke.) When the newlyweds return to his family home so the new bride can meet her mother-in-law, dead Elaine gets a little pissy.
While it’s a ghost story, it’s also a possession story. Elaine doesn’t just whisper and cry. She also wants to possess Laura so she can exact revenge on Mark, whom she believes is responsible for her death by gunshot wound. Is he really responsible, though? Some characters believe he is, and have taken measures to cover-up a scandal. Some characters believe it’s just not possible that he would or could kill anyone.
The most problematic thing about She Waits is that it takes course in a matter of only a couple days. Elaine wastes no time. However, that gives the perception that events are happening slowly. It’s kind of like a movie made in real time that’s supposed to be suspenseful, but it turns out that events aren’t really as entertaining when happening in real time. We need the magic of the movies to manipulate our perceptions.
Also, it’s a very simple plot. I hesitate to say that based on the story milestones it’s too long at only 74-minutes, but it might have been even better in a one-hour anthology format. Mark’s mother, Sarah Wilson (Dorothy McGuire), is a heavy focus. She plays the obligatory role of the woman that no one believes when she warns them what is about to happen. She plays it calm and quiet, which I suppose is a fresh take on the normally frazzled and frenzied.
What makes up for any flaws is the location. She Waits looks like it was shot entirely on location and, indeed, takes place mostly in one location: the 14-room house. It gives the movie texture and depth, as well as claustrophobia and shadow. It’s not particularly scary, but it is unsettling. At times, it has a theatrical feel, which I’ll credit to Academy Award-winning director, Delbert Mann (Marty, 1956.) It’s a good movie; I recommend it. I just don’t love it.