Stanley Kubrick Turned An Eight-Minute Scene In The Shining Into A 60-Take Slog

Stephen King's 1977 horror book "The Shining" was a novel-length observation of a man — husband, father, and writer Jack Torrance — being (to quote the book), "bent and twisted until something snapped." The sprawling Overlook Hotel, situated remotely in the Colorado Rockies, bends and sculpts Torrance into an axe-wielding madman using a myriad of manipulators to influence the recovering alcoholic.

When renowned filmmaker Stanley Kubrick helmed a feature-length adaptation of King's bestseller just a few years later, he took those manipulators seriously, insisting on take after take to get just the right feel from his actors. One of them was the late Philip Stone, who plays former Overlook caretaker Delbert Grady, who tragically died several years earlier in a horrific murder-suicide. Speaking with The Independent upon the 1999 death of Kubrick, Stone spoke on his relationship with the director and how a relatively simple scene — two men in a room, just talking — took no less than 60 takes to satisfy the auteur. Stone recalled:

"You didn't mess with Stanley. I saw him get upset and swear, and at least one famous actor fell foul of him. The thing was to not be frightened of him. I was never frightened of him, which was why we got on so well. For 'The Shining' I spent two weeks on the set in Elstree. My scene with Jack Nicholson lasted about eight minutes. We shot it 50 or 60 times, I should think – always in one take. Then Jack Nicholson, Stanley and I would sit down and look at each take on a video. Jack would say, 'That was pretty good, wasn't it, Stanley?' And Stanley would say, 'Yes it was. Now let's do it again.'"

'It took a long time to get the confidence to do it right'

The scene Stone describes is a catalyzing moment in the movie, accelerating Jack Torrance's backslide into lunacy. Torrance is played by Oscar-winner Jack Nicholson, a casting decision the book's author wasn't thrilled about at first. After weeks of writer's block, Jack's anger surfaces, and after a fight with Wendy (Shelley Duvall), he storms over to the hotel's ballroom, which is now full of anachronistic partygoers and a stocked bar. Jack breaks his sobriety and has a stiff drink, and that's when he meets Stone's ghostly Grady. As such, Stone told the Independent that Kubrick wanted an ethereal delivery of Grady's lines:

"It took a long time to get the confidence to do it right. Stanley wanted the sense of me as a ghost. 'Don't go too quickly,' he told me. 'Slow it down, slow it down.' I never minded how long anything took with Stanley. I was an actor. It was my job to do it if that was what was wanted."

It was Grady who suggested that Wendy and Danny needed "a good talking-to," an ominous term taken to mean that a nasty history might repeat itself. After all, Grady's caretaker stint ended in 1971 with the slaughter of his wife and two daughters, followed by his own suicide. But the ever-professional man remained in the haunted hotel's employ after his death, working at Jack's nerves until he, too, succumbs to cabin fever. The hotel tries to work its magic on young Danny and cook Dick Halloran as well because of their abilities to "shine," but like the book warned, Jack was the most vulnerable of them all. The 60 takes were worth it, because the scene now stands as one of the most chilling bloodless moments in the story entire, marking Jack's irreversible turn to delirium.