‘The Shining’: Anjelica Huston Believes Shelley Duvall ‘Carried’ the Movie — Not Her Ex Jack Nicholson

Initially viewed as somewhat of a flop, The Shining — based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name — has come to be known as one of the most iconic horror movies of all time. Lines like, “Here’s Johnny!” and “redrum” have haunted viewers for decades. King may not have been a fan of the adaptation, but audiences certainly are. 

Jack Nicholson’s performance as Jack Torrance is widely considered one of his best performances of all time — an impressive claim, given his twelve Oscar nominations outside of the role. While he certainly makes a formidable villain, some viewers found that Nicholson’s co-star was the one who truly “carried” the film. 

(L-R) Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall in a scene from the Warner Bros movie 'The Shining'
(L-R) Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall in The Shining | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The Shining successfully terrified ’80s audiences

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When Stephen King published The Shining in 1977, readers around the world were captivated. The latest release from the master of horror was met with a warm — if wary — reception. It hit shelves just one year after fans had seen Carrie adapted into a movie. When The Shining was slated to release as a film just three years later, the buzz for the book only increased. The movie plot stays fairly loyal to the path of the book, with a few key differences that die-hard fans love to debate. Readers and viewers meet the Torrance family, headed by Jack Torrance.

The father-of-one loses his job and interviews to manage a remote hotel for the winter. The building does not accept visitors during the colder months, as a result of the extreme weather, and the Torrance family would be in charge of keeping the creepy residence in shape for the off-season. Jack plans to work on his writing career while at the Overlook Hotel, but things don’t go according to plan. When the family is snowed in, Jack gets a terminal case of cabin fever, while his wife and young son do their best to stay safe and sane, hoping that the snow will melt in time. 

Nicholson’s ex-girlfriend praised the performance of Duvall

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Indisputably, The Shining wouldn’t be the same without Nicholson’s crazed facial expressions and perfectly characterized descent into madness. He begins as the show’s protagonist and finishes as the antagonist, taking viewers on a wild ride in which it’s hard to take your eyes off the actor. Still, Shelley Duvall as Wendy Torrance gave him some fierce competition for best in show. She expertly portrayed her character’s complex emotions — horror as she lost the ability to recognize her husband, but a desperate need to remain brave for her son. 

Anjelica Huston, who had been dating Nicholson at the time of the movie’s filming, recognized Duvall’s immense commitment. Huston told the Hollywood Reporter she believes that Duvall “actually carried the movie on her back if you look at it.” She went on to say that Duvall was in an undoubtedly intense environment. “She was,” the actor remarked, “Incredibly brave.”

Duvall’s impeccable characterization came at a high cost

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Stanley Kubrick was an eccentric director who prioritized perfection, often to a fault. Duvall was open about her clashes with Kubrick, with the man pushing her to the limit despite her deteriorating mental health. The actor was forced to experience intense terror day-in and day-out on-set. According to Mental Floss, the scene in which Wendy wards Jack off with a bat was shot 127 times — a world record that many believe may have lead to the end of Duvall’s career. 

Post-The Shining, the one-of-a-kind actor largely vanished from the public eye, leaving Hollywood completely in 2000. Now 71, Duvall is well-deserving of a peaceful retirement, and fans are hopeful that she has regained a sense of peace following the trauma.