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Hollywood never tires of the old haunted-house routine. There's this mansion , see, and it makes strange noises late at night. It seems a murder was committed in the attic, many years ago, and the victim's ghost still wanders up and down the stairs, waiting for revenge. . . .

"The Changeling" rings surprisingly few variations on this classic situation. It's an old-fashioned movie in many ways, right down to its unusual restraint in depicting the dastardly deeds that are an integral part of the plot. The director, Peter Medark, has specialized in such past films as "Negatives" and "The Ruling Class." Here, though, he seems to be relishing all the venerable conventions of the fantasy genre. He wants to surprise us without surprising us.

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Fortunately, Medak has a good deal of technical skill, and many sequences of "The Changeling" are chillingly well done. The acting is strong, too, from such sturdy stars as George C. Scott, as a composer with a tragic past, and Trish Van Devere, as the woman who helps him get his life back on the track. Melvyn Douglas -- who has been doing this sort of thing since at least 1933, when his performance was the best thing about "The Vampire Bat" -- is also on hand, as a senator with a nasty secret.


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