Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Poor Unfortunate Soul: Dick Halloran in The Shining (1980)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 3, 2008

Tea & sympathy with IITS

Maybe it was just that Scatman Crothers’ presence was too anomolous in this movie to begin with for him to stick around too long. After all, I can’t remember a single black person in any of Stanley Kubrick’s movies up until that point (well, with the exception of James Earl Jones’s nothing role in Dr. Strangelove). And this vivacious, wisecracking, cackling individual certainly had no place in a movie as emotionally muted as The Shining, where the only other expressions of feelings are those of fear, hatred, and psychotic murderousness. Nonetheless, despite this incongruous presence, The Shining‘s treatment of Dick Halloran still seems like a little much. In fact, I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that Dick gets the rawest deal of any character in movie history, including any of those victimized by the most villainous characters in movie history.

So when we first meet poor unforunate Dick, he’s showing the Torrances around the Overlook, when he contacts little Danny telepathically. He tells him all about the shining, and says that while he knows that the Overlook has some sketchy history, he should be OK anyway. But if the hotel should possess his father and send him on a murderous rampage, Dick tells the kid that he can shine on him and he’ll come out and save the day (or maybe he just implies it in the movie, I can’t really remember). Now it’s true that Dick was perhaps a little less than forthcoming of details and was probably a little remiss to not warn Wendy about the hotel’s possible dangers, so at least she wouldn’t have gotten so flustered when hubby started trying to kill her. Still, he’s clearly worked at the hotel a long time without being murdered, and he probably wouldn’t keep his job too long if he scared away every prospective caretaker with tales of ghosts and pigman blowjobs, so we’ll let him go on that one.

In any event, Jack goes nuts, and the gorgeous naked chick in room 237 turns out to be the SCARIEST FUCKING SCENE IN MOVIE FUCKING HISTORY, so Danny goes a calling on Dick. The kindly old cook is busy chilling in his hotel room in florida, watched over by his naked portrait, ecstatic not to have a care in the world, when the petrified Danny shines him half to death (both the image of an entraced, shivering Danny sending the message and a quaking, reverse-O-faced Dick receiving it, incidentally, are among the creepeist sights in the movie). So Dick drops his glorious plans of spending the winter months in Florida masturbating and watching TV, flies back across the country, lies his way into renting a snow plow, and drives hours and hours in a hellish snow storm, just because he gets sent a nasty mental premonition from some kid he’s met once.

And what is his greeting, once he gets there after about two days straight of travel? Why, an axe to the chest of course! Dick doesn’t even get a chance to take off his coat before Jack, out of nowhere, gives him a good shot to the gut, without even bothering to explain the situation to Dick before doing so, causing him to scream and flail around for a few seconds before keeling over and dying. Not only is his death an undignified one, but he doesn’t even get a proper mourning scene–sure, Danny screams a little, and Wendy looks terrified when she sees his axed corpse (although no more terrified than she’s looked for the last two and a half hours), but Danny doesn’t sob over his dead body or anything, and once the two of them escape on the snowcat that Dick drove there, there’s no scene where mother and son take a moment for reflection on the death of the wonderful soul who helped save their lives. For all we know, they go to Chuck E. Cheese’s afterwards and forget all about him.

Pretty bad, huh? It’s even worse when you consider two additional factors. One is that Danny, despite seemingly having the credentials for the position, is one of the least cute precocious kids in horror history. There’s not a single point in the movie where this kid even seems particularly human–he never smiles, never shows affection, never seems to be enjoying himself (even when he’s triking around the hotel, it seems like it’s all business). He’s a creepy motherfucker, and worse, he’s a stone genius. His character’s only supposed to be five, right? Yet he outsmarts pop Jack time and time again, including in the big final chase scene, where he retraces his own footsteps in the snow to throw daddy off his scent. Huh? When you get down to it, he doesn’t even really need Dick’s help–all he needs is his snowcat, and I’m sure he could’ve figured out a way to fix the one in the hotel that Jack sabotaged if he’d thought to do so in time.

But you know what the real rub is, the thing that really makes you wanna say “aw, HELL naw!!“? In the Stephen King book–you know, the thing that this movie was supposedly based on–Dick lives. He gets a little banged up, sure, but he lives to escape with the family and move on up to Maine, where Danny and Wendy visit him at his new job as a resort chef. Imagine you’re Scatman Crothers, you’ve just got this big role in one of the year’s big movies, you read the book that the movie is based on, and you show up for script readthrough the first day thinking you get to be one of the movie’s big heroes–and it turns out you die like a sucker and are never mentioned again for the rest of the movie. Or maybe they just didn’t tell him, and he found out during the filming of the actual scene. “OK, Scatman (Scatty?), just walk slowly down the hallway calling out, and when you get to the end, Jack’s gonna come at you with the axe.” “Wait, what??

Interrupting your blissfully slovenly vacation in warm weather to travel two days in the snow to maybe save some unsettling prodigy of a kid that you don’t even know, only to get axed within seconds and then forgotten about–all when you should have gotten back to Maine and spent the rest of your luxurious life schmoozing with upper-class honkies. If there’s a rawer deal to be had in over a century’s worth of cinema, I’d like to see it.

21 Responses to “Poor Unfortunate Soul: Dick Halloran in The Shining (1980)”

  1. puiyan said

    do you know what the name of the painting/artist is for he picture above his bed? thanks. i’ve been looking everywhere and cannot find it

    • martin said

      puiyan, let me know if you find out, wanted to know for years and never got anywhere. cheers.

      • Heather said

        All you need to do is visit an inner-city pawn shop to find one of those ’70’s girly paintings, especially the black velvet specials. Good luck, they are much in demand now.

  2. snapnhiss said

    I’m a little late to the party but I wanted to compliment you on your article. I remember seeing this movie back when it was first released and walking out pissed that Kubrick had messed with the plot so much AND killed off a beloved character. I’m sure the movie was enjoyable to people that hadn’t read the book, but I can understand why King was angry at the way his story was tweaked. One of the very few good movies based on a King book was “Dead Zone” and they managed to follow the story pretty faithfully.

  3. Phat20s said

  4. Someone said

    Thank you for this. I found it while googling around to see if anyone else was as frustrated as I was at how the character of Dick Halloran was treated in the movie.

    And I saw the movie before I read the book, so I was going in without any preconceptions. But I was incredibly frustrated with the pointlessness of both his role and his death — that after building him up as a really likable character, he died a pointless death without even a chance to react, his ONLY relevance to the actual plot was bringing the replacement snowcat, NO ONE in the movie seemed to mourn his death, and the directer didn’t seem to expect the AUDIENCE too, either.

    It left a bad taste in my mouth, because it felt like the director was saying “Who cares about this guy? I sure don’t. He brought the snowcat, didn’t he? That was the important part. No one will care if I kill him off. Whack, thud, yawn.”

    I was glad when I read the book to see how much differently Steven King had handled the character.

  5. susan birchall said

    did anyone find out the name of the artist of the print above the bed ?

  6. Travis Lench said

    The character is also mentioned in the Stephen King book: It. He is a mess hall cook for the army.

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  8. Halloran Wannabe said

    I’m waaaay late coming to this post – in fact, I’m even later than the spam-software-commenter above me – but, I just had to comment with a thought I had while reading this.

    Viewed in a certain light, Danny (the psychic kid), is a heartless villain. With his future-sight, it’s possible to interpret his call for help to Dick as a heartless decision to sacrifice poor Dick to save his and his mother’s lives. Is it possible that Danny looked into the future and saw that his and his mother’s escape (in a snowcat provided by Dick) would only be possible if Dick died first.

    I know it’s reaching, but I’ve decided that I’ll interpret it that way… 🙂

    BTW, I got here looking for the name of that painting too – I can’t find it anywhere… All I want is to be a little more like cool, vacation-masturbating Halloran!

  9. Dani said

    Great read and excellent points. I really wish Kubrick explained his Dick killing decision.

  10. johnnie said

    what if he knew he was going to die by saving danny….

  11. LOL! Great article and spot on! Rest in Pepperonis

  12. H.P.L said

    I’m not sure if I can add anything more to the conversation than “Wedding Photographer” did, but thank you for this great article. Hallorann’s death was indeed one of the most ignominious in movie history–I’d place only Boba Fett’s above it.

  13. Foxxy said

    I just watched this movie for the first time and noticed the things mentioned here as well.

    I also watch Directors Cuts and read movie trivia and marveled that during the documentary commentary Kubrick’s daughter mentions that the actor could hardly remember his lines. This is while the actor is literally weeping with gratitude for all that the film cast and crew has done for him and how grateful he is to them all. Sheesh.

    Per movie trivia, it is also said that on his next film set he wept, again, when the new director was kind to him because Kubrick had so berated him during The Shining. It is really embarrassing when you think about it. Does it say nothing about the treatment of black actors and the dare I say shucking and jiving that goes on in order to have a measly part in which you are the ONLY person to die and you go out like a sucker?

  14. you can find a recreation of the painting at under the original art tab. the original and giclees on canvas are available.

  15. Jonathan said

    …perhaps Dick wanted to die…

    • Jonathan said

      Perhaps he wanted to die, to save Danny. That makes Dick a heroe. Good role…

      • Soh said

        No, Jonathan (and Johnnie above), not at all. You must believe black people deem white people’s lives as inherently worthier than their own. Why would an adult man– on his own journey of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness– travel two days in horrific weather conditions just to sacrifice himself for a little boy he doesn’t know or love? He went there with the hope and expectation of saving Danny and Wendy from imminent danger. He most likely thought his gift of shining would assist him in communicating with Danny and getting all three of them (himself, Danny and Wendy) to safety. Damn, the U.S.’s foul history and Uncle Remus / “magical negro” / mammy tropes must really have you (and I’m sure other foolish people who lean on this Halloran self-sacrifice theory) terribly confused and misinformed. Thankfully, Kubrick didn’t fully suffer from this foolishness. Though Halloran is definitely a magical negro whose character was wasted,* he for sure is not depicted as running to the Overlook with the intent of laying down his life to save po’ massuh Danny who got the shine.

        *Halloran was wasted, as per the standard for most black characters in 80s, 90s, and early 2000s horror movies. They were used as disposable redshirts who die first, Kubrick’s brilliance isn’t immune to this trope. It’s OK to recognize and accept this, and not try to add dignified meaning where there isn’t any. We’ll all be OK.

        Now, you’ll have to forgive me if your theory is sarcasm. If that is the case, then, yes, what a freakin’ hero. Hercules, Hercules!

  16. defbatface said

    This review assumes the movie is to be taken entirely literally, and in doing so misses everything.

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