Changeling reviews

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Postby Big Magilla » Fri Feb 20, 2009 7:09 pm

Mike Kelly wrote:By the way, was It Happened One Night really that much of a long shot?

That bit seemed like a writer's invention to me. Did people really bet on the Oscars way back then?

With the largest number of nominations of any film that year, I would have thought It Happened One Night would have been the favorite.
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Postby Mike Kelly » Fri Feb 20, 2009 7:01 pm

I just watched it myself, and also agree with much of what has been said. Eastwood seems to be filming it as a noir/horror film. I thought I was watching Invasion of the Body Snatchers for a while "Uncle Ira isn't Uncle Ira" As an former cop, I just couldn't fathom what was going on, but apparently they kept very close to the case. My namesake did a nice job as Detective Ybarra, and Amy Ryan added much needed energy to the Snake Pit scenes. Unlike some here, I actually got a big kick out of Jason Butler Harner's serial killer. He had a Dennis Hopperish whacked out look about him, and as far as his execution scene, all I can say is I grew up watching Angels with Dirty Faces quite a few times, he sure made me think of Cagney.

I didn't care for the scene when the mother of the escaped boy calls Christine. It seemed intentionally manipulative. I also would have expected that the nephew of the killer would have been re interviewed to ask about that incident. I'm sure he was, but they left it out of the screenplay.

By the way, was It Happened One Night really that much of a long shot?

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Postby Mister Tee » Fri Feb 20, 2009 5:54 pm

Weighing in late as usual.

I agree with a lot of the points raised throughout the thread. It seems to me the film’s biggest strength and weakness is the sheer breadth of material. You have two major movie-ish storylines – the impersonation of the missing kid and the serial killer down the road (make it three if you want to count the unravelling of systematic corruption in the LAPD). And it all connects! Were this presented to us as fiction, we’d call it far-fetched or hopelessly contrived. That it’s -- except in small-detail ways -- TRUE makes the movie generally absorbing even where writing or directing goes astray.

It does, however, go astray, and I’d say a lot of it at the writing stage. The screenwriter obviously labored to find a coherent way into the story, and I can’t say he found the right point of entry. However sympathetic a character Christine Collins is, she doesn’t work as central focus of the film. Detective Kelly does the most important things to connect the various story lines, and he’d have been the logical choice around which to structure the script. Perhaps Christine could be a co-protagonist, alongside Kelly, but no more. Starting and ending the story with her (in apparent effort to make this some sort of sisterhood fable) doesn’t do the material justice, and leaves me feeling essential parts of the story have been given short shrift – why did the impersonator kid do what he did? What was he doing with that guy at the diner to begin with? How much did the Kelly detective struggle with upstaging his brother policeman? How big a nationwide story was this Collins search, anyway? All sorts of vital elements seem elliptically omitted, while we have (as everyone seems to acknowledge) more scenes of “He’s not my son” than we could have ever needed. And, like Sonic, I don’t like the “I have hope” ending one bit – besides being Hollywood cliché, it’s flatly negated by the title card telling us she continued the futile search her whole life. Unless the point is you’re better off in life chasing a delusion than dealing in reality. (Written another way, I could see the escaped kid’s ambiguous tale of what happened to Walter being viewed as punishing for Christine – dooming her to a life of false hope, of never being able to close the door)

As for Jolie…I’m not sure why she’d be cast in this role, apart from financial considerations. I liked Jolie back in the 90s (Gia, Playing by Heart, even Girl Interrupted though I’d never have voted for her), not so much as an actress but as a presence. She had a dynamic quality that made you watch her, which was quite separate from what the best actresses do but not without its rewards. Here, she submerges all that. It’s like watching Carol Burnett trying to do a serious role by draining everything funny out of her – in short, depriving the audience of everything they enjoy about her. There’s nothing wrong with what Jolie does, but nothing registers either. Amy Ryan just about blows her off the screen.

The nominated cinematography and art direction, however, are quite deserving.

I agree Eastwood’s cinematically expressed sentiments appear to belie his politics these days; this is a movie whose villains all seem solidly GOP. Eastwood had actually been seeming less Republican himself of late (voting Perot), but last Fall he not ony supported McCain, he defended Palin – perhaps simply being chivalrous? It may be that his voting hand just can’t quite catch up with his artistic instincts. But we can always hope for late-life conversion. David Mamet recently loudly switched to the Republican side, after a lifetime of plays that seemed in tune with GOP Darwinism. Can we just do a one-for-one swap? I’d make that trade any day.

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Postby Sabin » Tue Jan 06, 2009 3:30 am

The scene where Angelina Jolie starts screaming at her impostor changeling child "Stop saying that! I want my son back! Damn you!" is very "No wire hangers ever!" The only manner in which I am comparing Jolie to Faye Dunaway's performance is that there is really no coming back from either moment. Jolie is quite good for me up until then, quite good indeed. Then her character spirals into a one-dimensionality that never ceases. The screenplay is simplistic but so is Eastwood's approach. He deals in archetype and he knows how to get them. Million Dollar Baby is one of the most gloriously archetypal films in ages but the script was better and the characters more variance, all of which are sorely lacking here. There is good, there is evil, and there is more evil. Ambiguity has no place in the city of angels and this is problematic because there is more than ample room in this script. Hell, there's more than ample room for anything in this script. This is an already archetypal screenplay and stripping it down to its elements in this case is very problematic, residing somewhere between an exploitative true crime saga and Christine Collins' matyrrific journey towards understanding of a corrupt system. It's neither fish nor foul.

I think that I have never been less interested in Clint Eastwood the Filmmaker than this year. I am wholly tired of how Gran Torino reflects anything on this man. In my mind, he has revealed himself as a filmmaker whose sole prejudice is an abhorrence for weakness, excess, and waste. Get it in one. Move along. The film sorely suffers; even though Clint Eastwood's aesthetic is a welcome one, it's on lazy display in this film. I hate the film for not being much better but it's still such an innately compelling story that I can't bring myself to dismiss it like Gran Torino.
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Postby criddic3 » Tue Dec 23, 2008 1:20 am

According to my computers at work, this movie will be released on DVD on February 17th. Just in time for Oscar.
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Postby Uri » Sat Dec 06, 2008 3:14 pm

flipp525 wrote:but how does Jolie's "thinness" detract from her performance or even her character?

I kind of feel I rest my case.

If she was, God forbid, obese, (or slightly overweight, which is really the same), the detraction from her performance would be a given. It's exactly the fact that one can be not detracted by this "thinness" that bothers me.

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Postby flipp525 » Sat Dec 06, 2008 2:23 pm

VanHelsing wrote:
Uri wrote:Of the actresses who were considered award worthy in recent years, one can think of much worse ones, such as Kidman, Berry or Hayek.

You forgot Witherspoon.

She was fabulous in Freeway, Election, and even Man in the Moon way back when, but her recent output (including her "award-winning" turn in Walk the Line) has been totally underwhelming. I laughed out loud at the trailer for Rendition.

Uri, women in Hollywood are dangerously thin...what's really new about that? I appreciate your thesis on the unreal expectations of living up to an idealized version of the modern American woman, but how does Jolie's "thinness" detract from her performance or even her character? I'm definitely not challenging your assertion, but I'd like to delve deeper into it. With so many things wrong with the film (a lack of focus, a rote screenplay), I found Jolie's performance (alongside the original score and art direction) to be one of the film's strong points. Does Eastwood idealize Jolie to the detriment of Collins' arc? Where does she, in your own words, move from a real person to a diva totem existing in a vacuum of the director's own making?

I'm with you on Amy Ryan who took the "wizened hooker" role and fleshed it out into something compelling and real. She deserved more screentime.

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Postby VanHelsing » Sat Dec 06, 2008 7:50 am

Uri wrote:Of the actresses who were considered award worthy in recent years, one can think of much worse ones, such as Kidman, Berry or Hayek.

You forgot Witherspoon.
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Postby Uri » Sat Dec 06, 2008 7:10 am

I'm a big Eastwood fan, and Lord knows I don't tend to let the actual movie come between me and my biased conceptions, but I find myself somewhere in the middle here – I liked the overall distant, measured phasing of Changeling, but I stumbled on practically each and every hurdle Sonic rightly pointed, so though my final verdict is far more favorable than his, I find it to be a very flowed film.

But I want to elaborate a little about what I find to be a major disadvantage here and that's Jolie's performance, and even more so, her presence, and the way I feel it illustrates the way women are perceived in films and culture.

Angelina Jolie is not a very good actress. She's not a dreadful one. Of the actresses who were considered award worthy in recent years, one can think of much worse ones, such as Kidman, Berry or Hayek. I'd rank her aside Theron or Paltrow as someone who's capable of acting in a passable, acting school level, basic way (when not stretched). Yet they've all been accepted, surprisingly wildly, even here at times, as respectable, even admired thespians. They are hired by prestigious directors, hailed by high (as well as low) brow critics and moviegoers. Yet they are, as Marco would say, objectively mediocre at best.

And then there's the fact that the appearance of all of them is extremely and obviously artificially altered, yet they keep getting jobs. Very early in Changeling, we see Jolie from behind, riding the trolley. The lack of any bodily fat makes her jaw line so distinct, and I had the same reaction I had a couple of weeks ago, when I had the misfortune of watching Keira Knightly in The Duchess, and that that I'm looking at a two dimensional mask attached on top of a stick. It may sound like a petty, bitchy, even chauvinistically malice pan, but my point is that there something totally wrong in our willingness, as a society, to accept these – and I find no better way of putting it - physically distorted women as a legitimated representation of normal, real world womanhood, and even worse, a desired one.

Christian Bale physicality in The Machinist was a major narrative factor, as was trimmed down Tom Hanks in the latter part of Castaway. Yet we're not meant to be alarmed when we see a woman in a similar poor shape onscreen. I found Jolie's appearance working against the movie. To me she did look staggeringly physically sick, I could almost accept her being seen as someone who's not well. In a universe where the visual is often meant to indicate some more abstract phenomenon – and we deal here with a cinematic universe – it's kind of legitimate to associate her obvious physical fragility with a mental one. It definitely wasn't meant that way, at least not consciously, but it's undercurrentlly there.

(And yes, I know, it's set in the age of the flappers, but no, Louise Brooks, Colleen Moore, Clara Bow – none of them looked this thin. Jeanne Eagels did, but she was a heroin addict who died prematurely).

So we are repeatedly subjected to flat, cardboard like (literately, too often) representations of women onscreen. And it's accompanied with a 4000 year old philosophically apologetic mechanism that explain to us that it's all about stylization, or theoretic formalization, or mythologizing – the eternal sphinx analogy can go a long way in excusing for stiff acting, can't it? But the idolization of women and turning them into any form of icon is just another form of good old objectifying. Declaring someone a Diva is as crippling as dismissing them all together. The degradation of woman is so internalized in our civilization, the exclusion of female realities is so trivial, that we are conditioned to willingly go along with these cinematic convictions.

Unfortunately, Eastwood seem to embrace these conventions. The unquestioning adoration he practice in the way he exhibits his leading character and leading lady combined with this lady's limited range (and yes, her too alienatingly distinctive look), turn Christine into a disconnected, detached entity, who, indeed, exists in a strange vacuum (and no, being cordial with some coworkers one is in charge of does not stand for an elaborate social life). At one point I was wishing Jolie had switched roles with Amy Ryan. Having an accessible, more expressive, journeyman of an actress in its center might have made this movie for less of an event, but it might have turned out to be a better one. (A good script might have helped too).

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Postby flipp525 » Fri Dec 05, 2008 10:38 am

Sonic Youth wrote:The two boys who play her sons are dreadful, harkening back to an earlier time when child actors weren't held to higher standards.

The boys who play the sons are both "dreadful"? Why, exactly? I thought the one who portrayed the real Walter Collins did a wonderful job. He was sweet and smart and the mother/son dynamic that crystallized on-screen when he interacted with Jolie in the opening of the film was probably the most genuine thing about it. Even when he made his last act reappearance in the flashback, he emboided a sort mini-heroism it was hard to believe was simply manufactured. As for the fake son, he was everything he needed to be. Nothing incredible about his performance, but nothing particularly objectionable either. The boy who played the killer's cousin was excellent.

I also didn't get the impression that Christine Collins didn't necessarily have any friends. She seemed rather close to her co-workers who were all comforting her when the police came back to inform her that her son had been found. They also later pop up to ask her to listen to the Oscars with them. It's not quite like she's living in a complete vacuum which is what you were suggesting. The issue you seem to have with the film is that you really wanted to see more of a character study whereas Christine's story was supposed to expose a larger ghastly event that no one, even the audience at times, was ready to confront. I believe the psychological trauma of bringing another chlid home who you knew for sure was not your son was as untapped of a goldmine as you seem to have thought, but I also don't think the film was a dreadful experience with no merit.

There were certainly some problems, but your whole review is almost as over-the-top as you thought the movie itself was.

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Postby dws1982 » Fri Dec 05, 2008 12:15 am

I was looking through a copy of People magazine from a few weeks back and they had a picture of the real Christine Collins. Based solely on looks, Christine Collins would've been the role of Nancy Kulp's career.

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Postby Sonic Youth » Sun Nov 30, 2008 2:20 am

Damien wrote:And I love how the main villain of the piece -- the corrupt police captain -- resembles Rick Santorum.

Funny, I spent much of the movie thinking about how much he (Jeffrey Donovan) looked like Guy Pearce in "LA Confidential", an unfortunate comparison given how greatly superior Pearce's performance was.

I saw it earlier and I thought it was awful. I was very disappointed to see to see Eastwood's unbroken streak come to an end like this, and disappointed to see a film starting out so promisingly gradually devolve into cringeworthy histrionics. This is the classic TV movie syndrome: such fascinating material given such a lousy, formulaic screenplay filled with trite exchanges, deux ex machinas, etc. It's Clint Eastwood's "Shawshank Redemption". It does begin well as the story sets itself up and it's compelling stuff. A movie has to try very, very hard to not make a missing child case compelling. For a while, Eastwood very confidently lets the story unfold before us - the photography and editing of the sequence at the train station where Christine is to pick up Walter is masterful - but even in the early stages something is off. It doesn't take long to realize that the movie isn't all that interested in what it's like to be a single mother in late '20s America, or how a traumatizing event like your only child going missing affects your daily activities, what it's like to live in an empty home, how it affects your work, how it affects your standing in the neighborhood, how you're viewed by other people, how your interactions with others are affected. (The movie doesn't deal with the latter two because Christine conventiently doesn't appear to have any friends in her life.) The film is simply an investigative procedural and an indictment of departmental corruption with some good old fashioned woman-in-peril histrionics and righteous anger thrown in.

So, ok. It's clear that this is not going to be one of Eastwood's great dramas, but rather a melodrama, and the movie should be viewed as such in order for it to succeed. I guess that old b&w Universal logo kicking off the film was there for a reason other than to establish the period era. It looks as if Eastwood felt that the movie had to be an homage to classic cinema mellers to get the story across, complete with lurid sensationalism, stock characters, period mannerisms (or rather, period movie mannerisms) and heightened dramatic effects. It no doubt helps the story along, but I'm not exactly sure why Eastwood felt this was the best way the material had to be presented. It's a true story, it's gripping and fascinating... why the artifice? Would it not have played more effectively as straight drama? Perhaps Eastwood felt that the sensationalistic approach was the only way he could get that miserable screenplay across, and on that he'd have a point. But as it goes on, it goes way way overboard. Even a little bit of restraint would have been welcome for the women's sanitarium set-pieces, just a little. The patients with unkempt hair and dangling arms looking like they wandered in from the zombie movie set next door, the staff and their sadistic facial expressions, the sounds of patients screaming during exterior shots of the building, and of course it couldn't be complete without an acknowledgement of the inedible food and the veteran inmate warmly advising to "eat it all, they don't like it if you leave any on your plate" Was he aiming for a camp classic here? And if you think nothing could top that, there's the endlessly drawn out execution sequence in which the unsubtle, unwatchable, unbearable Jason Butler Harris sings "Silent Night" underneath his potato bag before finally hung. And then there are the smaller banalities: the cutesy, very trepidatious flirtation between Jolie and her nerdy boss towards the end of the film signalling how life is gonna get better; Jolie standing in the asylum's hallway shot in a sickly white glow as the rest of the set is otherwise lit naturally; a shot of cigarrette ash falling in slow-motion (guess Eastwood picked this over a shot of a slo-mo glass dropping from a desk and breaking in three different angles); the tall white-knight defense attorney saving the day and exuding righteous, well-bred authority; the dreaded "f-word" that's apologetically introduced in conversation which Jolie later throws at a person of authority for an obvious applause-line; "I want my son!! I want my son!! I want my son!!"; and that odd, utterly forced final bit of uplift with this bit of Steinbeck,

Jolie: "Three boys tried to escape that night, and if one boy got away then maybe one or both of the other two escaped too. Maybe he's out there somewhere, afraid to tell the truth, afraid of what will happen to him or to me. But one thing I know is that boy gave me something I didn't have before."
Ybarra: "What's that?"
(Me: "Hope.")
Jolie: "Hope."

Ye gods. All that was missing was a final shot of the disgraced police captain sitting in his office, listening to the protests outside, reading a banner headline from a newspaper calling for his dismissal, as he takes a gun out of his desk, puts it to his head and shoots himself. Naturally, before the trigger is pulled, we'd discreetly cut away to a shot of a framed, black-and-white photo of said captain shaking hands with the mayor as he's given the key to the city or something, and a splash of his blood sprays over the picture. It wouldn't have been out of place.

And because of this over-the-top approach, I came away doubting the veracity of the whole thing, true story or no. Thanks to the Wikipedia article, I now know that the "Code 12" was a real code used between the police department and the sanitarium. But it feels like a melodramatic contrivance anyway. I wouldn't be so mistrustful of the movie if Eastwood and the screenplay didn't continually punch up fake drama in order to make already powerful material feel completely absurd. As well-documented as Collins' incarceration is, I somehow doubt that she was saved from electroshock theraphy by the sudden entrance of her lawyer who storms into the room at the very second the nurse is about to flip the switch. (All that was lacking was a clock's second hand counting down to zero.) Sorry, I'm very skeptical that L.A. detectives took the young boy who confessed to being a murderer's accomplice out to the field where the bodies are buried and made him dig up the bones. (It pretty much plays as you'd expect: eventually the boy collapses to the ground in tears, dropping the shovel; the detective's expression slowly changes to horror and compassion, and stops the digging pretty much at the moment you'd expect; and did he call him "son"? I forget.) Maybe Christine Collins visited her son's killer in jail. Maybe it was even on the day before his execution. But I kinda don't buy that she forcibly shoved him against the wall and held him there for two minutes while the guard just stood there and watched. These are the sorts of grandstanding moves that undermine the film, as if Eastwood didn't trust the impact of the story.

And the performances are every bit as hackneyed. Jolie's first ten minutes promise magnificent things. She embodies the strain of a single, professional woman and exudes genuine maternal devotion while displaying the mannerisms of the 1920s (movie mannerisms of the '20s?) without a hint of effort. The skill is undeniable, and all we need is some soul to add depth to the portrayal. But this isn't a role that does her any favors, being mostly reactive and falling into hysteria. The louder the performance gets, the less organic it is, feeling less like a distraught mother and more like a one-woman award campaign. But she's head-and-shoulders above most everyone else. The two boys who play her sons are dreadful, harkening back to an earlier time when child actors weren't held to higher standards. Jeffrey Donovan as the villianous captain is tiresomely one-note, although his sleazy way with a line is occassionally amusing. Whoever the actor was who played the corrupt doctor that visited Jolie's house at the beginning, that was the sort of very fine, nuanced, yet no less sleazy performance that Donovan should have tried for, assuming he's capable of it. Malkovich is stolid and looks uncomfortable. Michael Kelly as the detective thankfully comes across as a human being. But Jason Butler Harris as the serial killer... wow.. It is an astonishing performance by an actor committed to his art, a man who believes acting is his life-blood. No mere amateur would have brought to the role what Harris brings, and if he's nominated, it will be one of the very worst performances ever nominated in the history of the Academy Awards.

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Postby Damien » Fri Nov 28, 2008 11:51 pm


Wikipedia has a fascinating entry about the real-life events upon which the film is based. By the way, I've heard the Dragnet episode referenced in this article, and it's great stuff -- it's widely available on various Old Time Radio sites.


The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders (also known as the Wineville Chicken Murders) were a series of kidnapping and murders of young boys occurring in Los Angeles and Riverside County, California from 1928 through 1930. The case received nationwide attention, and events related to it exposed corruption in the Los Angeles Police Department. The 2008 film Changeling is based upon events related to this case.


In September 1928, the Los Angeles Police Department visited the Northcott Ranch in Wineville, Riverside County. In 1926, Sanford Clark, the then-14-year-old nephew of ranch owner Gordon Stewart Northcott, had been taken by Northcott from his home in Saskatchewan, Canada. Clark was beaten and sexually abused by Northcott, before a family member informed police of the situation. Police found Clark at the ranch and took him into custody. Clark claimed that Northcott had kidnapped, molested and killed several young boys, with the help of Northcott's apparent mother, Sarah Louise Northcott, and the forced participation of Clark himself. The police found no complete bodies at the site, but discovered body parts, the personal effects of missing children, and blood-stained axes. Clark said quicklime was used to dispose of the remains and the bones had been dumped in the desert. The Northcotts had fled to Canada, but they were arrested near Vernon, British Columbia.


Sarah Louise Northcott initially confessed to the murders,[6] including that of 9-year-old Walter Collins. She later retracted her statement, as did Gordon Northcott, who had confessed to killing five boys. On February 8, 1929, after a 27-day trial in Riverside County, California before Judge George R. Freeman, Gordon Northcott was convicted of the murders of brothers Lewis and Nelson Winslow (12 and 10, respectively), who went missing from Pomona on May 16, 1928, and an unidentified Mexican boy, though it was believed the killings could have numbered as many as 20. The jury heard that he kidnapped, molested, tortured, killed, and dismembered these and other boys throughout 1928. On February 13, 1929, Judge Freeman sentenced Northcott to be hanged. The sentence was carried out on October 2, 1930. Sarah Louise Northcott was convicted of Walter Collins' murder. She was sentenced to life and served her sentence at Tehachapi State Prison. She was paroled after serving less than 12 years of her sentence. During the trial Gordon Northcott learned that Sarah Louise, who he had thought was his mother, was actually his grandmother. Sarah Louise stated that Gordon was the result of incest committed by her husband, Cyruss George Northcott, against their daughter Winifred.


Walter Collins (9) went missing from Los Angeles on March 10, 1928, after having been given money by his mother to go to the cinema. His disappearance received nationwide attention, and the Los Angeles Police Department followed up on hundreds of leads without success. The police faced negative publicity and increasing public pressure to solve the case, until five months after Walter's disappearance, when a boy claiming to be Walter was found in DeKalb, Illinois. Letters and photographs were exchanged, before Collins paid for the boy to be brought to Los Angeles. A public reunion was organized by police, who hoped the successful resolution would counteract the negative publicity they had received for their inability to solve this case and others. They also hoped the uplifting human interest story would deflect attention from a series of corruption scandals that had sullied the department's reputation. At the reunion, Collins claimed that the boy was not Walter. She was told by the officer in charge of the case, police Captain J.J Jones, to take the boy home to "try him out for a couple of weeks," and Collins agreed.

Three weeks later, Collins returned to see Captain Jones and persisted in her claim that the boy was not Walter. Even though she was armed with dental records proving her case, Jones had Collins committed to the psychopathic ward at Los Angeles County Hospital under a "Code 12" internment—a term used to jail or commit someone who was deemed difficult or an inconvenience. During Collins' incarceration, Jones questioned the boy, who admitted to being 12-year-old Arthur Hutchins Jr., a runaway from Illinois but who was originally from Iowa. A drifter at a roadside café in Illinois had told Hutchins of his resemblance to the missing Walter, so Hutchins came up with the plan to impersonate him. His motive was to get to Hollywood so he could meet his favorite actor, Tom Mix. Collins was released ten days after Hutchins admitted that he was not her son, and filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department. This aspect of the case is depicted in the 2008 film Changeling.

Collins went on to win her lawsuit and was awarded $10,800, which Jones never paid. Five years after Northcott's execution, one of the boys that Northcott allegedly killed was found alive and well. As Walter Collins' body had not been found, Christine Collins still hoped that Walter had survived. She continued to search for him all her life, but unsuccessfully, until she faded into obscurity without ever knowing her son's fate. The last public record of Christine Collins is from 1941, when she attempted to collect a $15,562 judgment against Captain Jones, by then a retired police officer, in Superior Court.


Arthur J. Hutchins, Jr. wrote in 1933 how and why he fooled the police, the real missing Walter's closest friends, and even Walter’s dog and cat in 1928. Hutchins biological mother died when he was 9. He pretended to be Walter Collins to get as far away as possible from his stepmother, Violet. Hutchins had been living on the road for a month when DeKalb, Illinois, police brought him in and began asking him questions about Walter Collins. Originally, he stated that he did not know about Walter, but changed his story when he saw this as a means to get to California.

After Hutchins confessed to the hoax, he was placed for two years in the Iowa State Training School for Boys in Eldora, Iowa. Eventually, he expressed remorse for what he had done to Christine Collins and wrote, "I know I owe an apology to Mrs. Collins and to the state of California."

After Arthur Hutchins became an adult, he sold concessions at carnivals and eventually made it back to California as a horse trainer and jockey. He died of a blood clot in 1954, leaving behind a wife and young daughter, Carol. According to Carol Hutchins, "My dad was full of adventure. In my mind, he could do no wrong."


Investigators found an axe and bones, hair and fingers from three of the victims buried in lime near the chicken house at the Northcott ranch near Wineville, hence the name "Wineville Chicken Coop Murders." Wineville changed its name to “Mira Loma” on November 1, 1930, due in large part to the negative publicity surrounding this case. Wineville Avenue, Wineville Road, Wineville Park and other geographic references provide reminders of the community's former name. Someone currently lives in the home where Gordon Stewart Northcott and Sanford Clark lived. The lot was subdivided, the chicken coops were removed, and a home was built on the site.

"The Big Imposter," an episode of the radio series Dragnet, which aired on June 7, 1951, was based on this case. When the show moved to television, the radio script was adapted into a teleplay and broadcast on December 4, 1952. The plot of the episode focuses primarily on the story of Arthur Hutchins' impersonation of Walter Collins. Oddly, in this version, the parental figure who reports the disappearance of the character based on Walter Collins is a widowed grandfather, raising the child on his own after the deaths of the boy's parents, rather than a single mother.

Changeling, a 2008 film directed by Clint Eastwood, is also based on the Northcott case. The film primarily depicts the plight of Christine Collins, the mother of Walter Collins, and her search for her real son.
"Y'know, that's one of the things I like about Mitt Romney. He's been consistent since he changed his mind." -- Christine O'Donnell

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Postby Damien » Fri Nov 28, 2008 11:33 pm

I essentially agree with you, Johnny.


I liked it, but I thought there were mis-steps both in concept and execution along the way which kept it from being a major work. It's kind of all over the place (at various times, the film plays as character study; social expose -- on two fronts, police corruption and a Snake Pit-like look at the mistreatment of the mentally ill; feminist tract; serial killer thriller).

To me, however, its primary flaw is a misplaced emphasis: Angelina Jolie's character's constantly telling the cops and anyone else who will listen isn't all that interesting, especially when there are much more compelling aspects waiting in the wings. (And the pacing of those Jolie-centered scenes is off; there's a sluggishness to them which heightens their repetitiousness.) What is much more intriguing are the psychological make-up of the imposter boy (something which the film doesn't delve into enough) and the kid who was forced to participate in the murders; the loner personality of the detective who cracks the case (a quintessential Eastwood character); the origins of John Malkovich's obsession with police corruption -- his minister seems like a fascinatingly ambiguous personality, but in the movie he comes across as merely muddled. And the whole-sale abduction and killing of the boys is much more gripping and ripe for multi-faceted dramatics than the disappearance of one kid.

Still is much to cherish in the film -- Eastwood's compassion for individuals fighting the odds in general and the power system in particular, and Changeling fits in firmly with Eastwood's long-standing admiration for strong women (which dates back to Breezy). There are wonderful set-pieces -- Eastwood is a master of conveying a sense of dread and showing just enough of the resultant horror.

And I love how the main villain of the piece -- the corrupt police captain -- resembles Rick Santorum.

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Postby Johnny Guitar » Sat Nov 15, 2008 7:46 pm

I liked this movie a lot.

It's definitely sensationalistic. And a lot of it is hackneyed--a lot of this comes from the script, but some blame goes to Eastwood too. But an old pro like Eastwood knows what to do to make the cliches hum, and even sing, a little bit. And not everything in this film is cliched--there is some real care in here in the way it's staged, moment to moment. Critics who drone about how it's poorly paced usually don't pay any attention to actual tempo or mise-en-scene; what they mean is merely that it hasn't quite conformed to their indocrinated norms of the Hollywood product. I'm not saying Eastwood's doing anything innovative with film form here (he's not); it's just that nothing upsets a cushy, privileged industry hack as much as a film getting something "not quite right" in the committee-polish department. To them, it's like an instrument gone slightly out of tune with the joyous concert of the multiplex. I also think this film continues to bear out that Eastwood the McCain-supporting, Spike Lee-aggravating celebrity does not synchronize with Eastwood the auteur. The latter is much further to the left on matters cultural and political. And this film is in many ways a deeply anti-masculinist one, which means that it is also, obliquely, a continued effort in the half-retrospective, half-revisionist project of "masculine" film genres that Eastwood has spent his directorial career undertaking.

I also had a few problems with the historical dimensions of the film--the way it tells a "true story" (or doesn't). But overall, quite good, quite powerful. Just my two cents ...

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