Vintage Video: Dragonwyck a true horror classic

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First Posted: 10/27/2014

Even though it’s housed in a box called “Fox Horror Classics Vol. 2” (2008, Fox, unrated, $20), 1946’s “Dragonwyck” is less a scary movie than a gothic romance.

That said, the directorial debut of Wilkes-Barre native Joseph L. Mankiewicz is full of eerie moments, and even a murder or two.

Gene Tierney stars as a God-fearing Connecticut farm girl who leaves her home behind to go live with her wealthy cousin (Vincent Price) and his family in Upstate New York. Price’s estate – dubbed Dragonwyck – is a huge mansion that, as the servants note, is haunted by the spirit of Price’s mother who killed herself years earlier.

Mankiewicz was 17 years into his career as a screenwriter and producer when he got the call to write and direct “Dragonwyck.” Fox chief Darryl Zanuck had bought the film rights to Anya Seton’s best-seller in 1944 and hired Mankiewicz a year later to oversee the adaptation.

Originally, the great Ernst Lubitsch (“Trouble in Paradise”) was slotted to direct “Dragonwyck” but after suffering a heart attack, he recommended Mankiewicz for the job.

Oddly enough, Mankiewicz and Lubitsch began the film as friends and ended as enemies. Lubitsch, who was to have produced, asked that his name be taken off the film.

Perhaps Lubitsch objected to the way the film seems to shift perspective midway through, morphing from a Gene Tierney drama into a Vincent Price chiller.

Despite the on-set tensions, “Dragonwyck” wound up being a hit, and Mankiewicz’s directing career was launched. Mankiewicz would continue to turn out acclaimed movies like “All About Eve” and “A Letter To Three Wives” until his retirement in 1972.