Woman in the Room, The (1983)


Giving Birth to Dollar Babies

Main Cast: Michael Cornelison and Dee Croxton

Director: Frank Darabont

In 1983, a 24-year-old future awesome filmmaker named Frank Darabont got it into his head that he should adapt a Stephen King short story to film.  And that’s exactly what he did.  After writing a letter to King securing his permission (Wikipedia says this was the birth of the “dollar babies”, but another dollar baby, The Boogeyman came out a year earlier, so I don’t know), Darabont set about making his film debut with one of the less assuming stories in King’s then-small bibliography.

THE WOMAN IN THE ROOM (originally published in King’s 1978 collection Night Shift as a 14 page story) is about John and his mother.  The mother is in the hospital, dying from abdominal cancer, and John is the dutiful son who visits regularly.  As the film opens, John is searching the medicine cabinet for painkillers, which he takes to his mother at the hospital, we presume with the intention of euthanizing her. Instead, he gives her aspirin.

Later, John, a lawyer, has a meeting with a client who might end up on death row for murder.  During the course of their discussion, John asks the prisoner–played wonderfully by Brian Libby, who would go on to become a fixture in Darabont films (Floyd in THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and the Biker in THE MIST)–what it felt like when he killed someone.  The prisoner replies he didn’t feel anything.  During and after the war (remember, this was 1983), he got so good at killing, it was just a job to him.  Except one time, he recalls.  A buddy was badly injured in Vietnam, then given a cordotomy.  The prisoner says his buddy saved his life once, and he didn’t like seeing him like that.  So he killed him.  Out of respect.

Given this speech, and then suffering a particularly horrifying nightmare that shows John what’s in store for his beloved mother, the lawyer finally gains the confidence to help his mother one last time in the only manner he can.

THE WOMAN IN THE ROOM is a very short film, about 30 minutes, and even that might be stretching the events of the short story.  I’ve read the story a few times, but it’s been at least a decade, so I can’t vouch for how closely the film sticks to the source material, but I’ve read that King considers this his favorite of all the dollar babies.  That, of course, could be because of the connection King feels to the story, considering he’s said in interviews that, when his own mother was sick, he wished he’d had the nerve to do what John does, if only to end his mother’s suffering.

As for the movie itself, given a little better quality film stock, you’d never know this was shot by a 24-year-old amateur.  Right from the start, Darabont’s expertise with a camera is evident.  His staging, his movement, the performances he gets from his actors.  In fact, my only problem with THE WOMAN IN THE ROOM was in trying to convince myself that Dee Croxton (mother) was 60 years old as she claims.  Her make-up job as terminally ill was pretty good, but the old age stuff wasn’t working for me.  Michael Cornelison (John) was 31 in this movie, and I’d bet money Croxton was around the same age.  They looked more like brother and sister.  But that’s a very small detail that doesn’t do enough to ruin my suspension of disbelief because everything else about this one is just about perfect.

Early indicators of Darabont’s knack for turning Stephen King stories into “heartfelt dramas” are present here, but with that nightmare sequence, it’s obvious on which side of the horror line his real allegiance lies.  Of all the King stories I’ve read, this is probably the last one I would peg for being a really good movie, but I think the quality of the finished product is just another testament to how talented Frank Darabont is as a filmmaker.

You can watch THE WOMAN IN THE ROOM on YouTube for free.

Stephen King on Film

Carrie (1976)

‘Salem’s Lot (1979)

The Shining (1980)

Creepshow (1982)

The Dark Half (1993)

The Tommyknockers (1993)

Needful Things (1993)

The Stand (1994)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)

The Mangler (1995)

Dolores Claiborne (1995)

The Langoliers (1995)

Sometimes They Comes Back … Again (1996)

Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering (1996)

Thinner (1996)

The Shining (1997)

Ghosts (1997)

Chattery Teeth (1997)

The Revelations of ‘Becka Paulson (1997)

Trucks (1997)

The Night Flier (1997)

Chinga (1997)

Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (1998)

Gerald’s Game (2017)

1922 (2017)

The Stand (2021)

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