Features and Columns · Movies

21 Things We Learned from Rob Reiner’s ‘Misery’ Commentary

“He’s not in for a good time now.”
Misery Commentary Rob Reiner
By  · Published on November 9th, 2017

Welcome to Commentary Commentary, our long-running series of articles exploring the things we can learn from the most interesting filmmaker commentaries available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Stephen King‘s banner year continues as one of the very best adaptations of his work gets a fantastic new Blu-ray release from Scream Factory. Misery sits firmly in the top five of his seventy-plus movies/mini-series — but don’t just take my word for it — and it’s an impressive feat seeing as director Rob Reiner‘s other King adaptation (Stand By Me) ranks even higher.

The new Blu features a 4K restoration, a pair of brand new interviews, and numerous other extras including two commentary tracks — one with Reiner and one with screenwriter William Goldman.

Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for…

Misery (1990)

Commentator: Rob Reiner (director)

1. He was questioned before heading into production if this was really the right project for him as his background was mostly comedy up to this point, but he said “it’s important for me to find my way into the film… and as you will see the movie is really about a man who is trapped by his own success and is desperately trying to break out and establish himself in a different way. I felt very much those feelings when I finished All in the Family.”

2. James Caan was not his first choice for the film, and he instead was turned down by Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, William Hurt (twice), Richard Dreyfuss, and others. “But at the end of the day you can’t imagine anybody else playing the part.”

3. He’s terrified of cliffs.

4. The car accident scene was captured with a setup involving nine cameras, “six or seven” of which actually functioned. “We knew we weren’t going to be able to throw a car off a cliff too many times.”

5. They spent weeks getting Paul Sheldon’s (Caan) briefcase to look “just right” in regard to the faded and worn exterior.

6. Screenwriter William Goldman first suggested Kathy Bates to Reiner for the Annie Wilkes role. “She was our first and only choice.”

7. Stephen King‘s novels are typically optioned while still in galley mode (ie before publication), but Reiner was surprised to discover that even after its release the book was still available. King was apparently reluctant to have it adapted as it was a very personal story for him, but he let Reiner option it with the agreement that the Stand By Me director would either direct or produce the film.

8. Richard Farnsworth gave Reiner the hat he’s wearing in his introduction scene as Buster.

9. They spent time crafting Wilkes as a “specifically sick person, not an all-purpose monster.”

10. They wanted to make Buster “more proactive” than he is in the novel, and to that end they gave him more deductive skills and drive towards finding Sheldon.

11. The shot at 21:30 — a POV approach towards and past Buster on the side of the road, that turns to reveal Annie driving — was designed by the film’s cinematographer, Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black).

12. Warren Beatty was involved briefly while they were developing the script and helped them close some possible plot holes in regard to Paul’s efforts to escape. “He said, ‘Pretend that it’s me, Warren Beatty, an intelligent person trapped in the bed, I would think of every possible way to get out of this house.'” From there they worked through various possibilities and then made sure to block off that option from Paul.

13. Bates was stage-trained and preferred excessive rehearsals while Caan is more “instinctive and naturalistic,” so they had to balance the rehearsal time to make it less than she wanted and more than he wanted.

14. Cast and crew were excited for the scene where Paul picks the bedroom door lock and rolls himself out into the house to explore for possible escape options. “We had literally only moved, like, four feet, but it was exciting to be shooting something other than that bedroom.”

15. The empty phone is the closest element to a “cheat” in the film as there’s no real reason why Annie would have it sitting there unless she expected Paul to escape from his room. They rationalized it by saying simply that she’s crazy.

16. The signed photo at 50:32 is actually Reiner’s handwriting.

17. The shot through the bed rails at 59:42 that transitions into a shot through trees is meant as a nod to the idea that Paul’s basically in jail.

18. The novel has Annie chop off Paul’s feet and cauterize the stumps, but they opted to simply hobble him instead by having her break his feet with a sledgehammer. Their thinking was that they wanted him to be victorious in the end, and losing his feet would be too high of a price. “It was pretty darn painful to look at, so I don’t think we compromised it too much.”

19. He thinks the film was one of the earliest examples of the audience thinking the villain is dead only to have the killer pop back into frame. A few decades’ worth of a slasher movies would disagree with him, but it was probably among the earliest for big studio movies.

20. King has Paul pretend to burn Misery’s Return at the end and then go on to see it published, but the film has him actually destroy the only copy. Reiner suspects that King, even subliminally, fears what might happen if he doesn’t supply his constant readers with the kinds of books they expect from him. The director wanted to affirm Paul’s desire to move on to other things.

21. Watching end credits is like watching home movies for Reiner as they remind of friends and experiences past.

Best in Context-Free Commentary

“This film was obviously made a while ago.”

“I love that speech because it’s so wacky and nutty.”

“I don’t enjoy staging fight sequences.”

Buy Scream Factory’s new Misery Blu-ray from Amazon.

Final Thoughts

Reiner leaves plenty of silent gaps in his commentary, but when he does speak he offers an engaging mix of observation and anecdotes. Fans will enjoy the listen, but as a time-saver, they’ll get similar insights in the disc’s new interview with Reiner. Either way, it’s a good track, a great Blu-ray, and a fantastic film.

Related Topics:

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.