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Calgary Herald (21/Jun/1992) - Movie mansions often outshine stars



Movie mansions often outshine stars

Howards End — the new Merchant-Ivory film based on E.M. Forster's sublime Edwardian soap opera — is the name of a house: a more comfortable than grand English country estate that serves as one of the film's key characters.

The house, an unpretentious vine-covered cottage steeped in sweet nostalgia, has its own personality (much infused with that of a beloved character who dies) and even provokes concern (you root for it to fall into the right hands). Some actors would kill for such a sympathetic part.

Along with actors, directors, writers and producers, movie houses — given a meaty role and eye-catching design — can attain star status. Some become icons.

Two images, for instance, define the horror classic Psycho: One is Janet Leigh being shredded in the shower, the other is the house on the hill. The malevolent facade may have been inspired, in part, by the Addams Family abode in the old New Yorker cartoons. Psycho historian Stephen Rebello has likened the Bates manse to "a skeletal finger pointing skyward," while Alfred Hitchcock dubbed it California Gothic.

The men who designed the Psycho house, and the production as a whole, won one of the 1960 film's four Oscar nominations.

Two houses from two of history's most acclaimed films are known on a first-name basis: Tara and Xanadu.

Scarlett O'Hara gave Gone With the Wind its spirit, but the movie's heart lies with the proud Georgia plantation that represents her family's blood, sweat and tears. Tara remains the definitive architectural symbol of the Old South, Hollywood-style.

In Citizen Kane, Xanadu is the ultimate symbol of empty excess. A dinosaurish pleasure dome and monument to a lonely tycoon's lavish ego, the house was equipped with an exotic zoo, a basement cluttered with costly and neglected "objets d'art" and a fireplace you could walk into six-abreast.

The Hearst Castle near San Simeon, Calif., on which Xanadu was based, is one of that state's leading tourist attractions. The house the movie actually used in many of the exterior shots can be seen as well: Vizcaya is the museum-like Miami estate of International Harvester co-founder James Deering.

The hokey Texana charm of Giant is embodied in Reata, Rock Hudson's big ranch house on the lone prair-ee — sort of a cross between Psycho and Bonanza. In Sunset Boul-evard, the decaying mansion in which Norma Desmond and time have stood still bears as heavy a presence as that of co-star Erich von Stroheim. And who can forget the almost magical, icicle-draped country house that gave refuge to Dr. Zhivago?

Non-antique dwellings in non-epic films have made their marks as well.

The upper-middle-class dream house in which Macaulay Culkin was left Home Alone gained a certain measure of fame, if not quite of the everlasting variety. The house belongs to a family in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka. After the movie's extremely successful release, house and family were subjected to star-gazing gawkers and mini-traffic jams.

Ultra-modern structures such as the futuristic stilt-house in Woody Allen's Sleeper and Patrick Bergin's '80s-slick beach home in Sleeping With the Enemy contributed appealing supporting performances.

Until John Lennon was killed there, his Upper West Side Manhattan apartment building, the Dakota, was famous for its creepy starring role in Rosemary's Baby.

And the townhouse that bore the dark secret of The Exorcist is still a Georgetown tourist must.

Can Linda Blair claim as much?