Novel Release Year: 1967
Original Air Date: February 11th, 1972
Richard Atlee (Tom Happer) is a quirky young man who invites himself into the crawlspace of Albert & Alice Graves' house (the couple are portrayed deftly by Arthur Kennedy & Teresa Wright). At first The Graves are fearful of their new tenant but begin to soften as Richard becomes like the son they never had. Things start off slow but eventually Richard moves upstairs into his own room. While the Graves are delighted to bid Richard into their lonely fold, the townspeople aren't quite so taken with this new interloper. When push comes to shove, Richard will defend himself and his new family at any cost, and things turn deadly.
A novel like Crawlspace is perfect for a television movie adaptation. It's small, intimate and claustrophobic. Both the book and the movie are suspenseful and dynamic with strong characterizations. The big difference, besides two completely different endings (or shall I say the movie ends a bit before the novel does, leading the viewer to ascertain a different outcome), is that while the movie feels like a comment on the disillusionment of youth in a post-hippie culture, the book clearly paints Richard Atlee as someone who never belonged to anything, counter-cultural or otherwise.
The movie depicts the Graves as people who, although full of regret over never bearing children, are close and at least fulfilled in their relationship with each other. The book describes the couple as more distant and deeply missing something between them.
Otherwise, there isn't that much difference between the novel and adaptation. Minus some stuff in the book that might make the running time of the movie too long, Crawlspace is both an excellent read and a fascinating and moving film.
With both versions the viewer is left to decide exactly what made Richard the way he is. The book expounds upon his background much more, but there's still something absent in the mystery. I like that because it adds an air of realism to it. Do we ever really know why anyone does anything?
Crawlspace the movie is fantastically cast with Arthur Kennedy putting in a superb performance as Albert. He's the crux of everything, and he plays Albert as an understanding but firm father figure who can't quite get through to Richard. Eugene Roche plays the bigoted sheriff Emil Birge who comes across as a little more mean-spirited in the novel. He's great here in another serious role (see The Possessed). As for Teresa Wright and Tom Happer, they expertly fill out the small cast. Happer didn't go on to do much else in television or film, and it's a crying shame because it's obvious he has a true depth with characterization. He makes Richard creepy but never completely unsympathetic. The novel makes him out to be a bit wilder, but he's perfect here in a tough part.
So many adaptations leave out the meat (and sometimes the point) of their original source, but Crawlspace adroitly captures all the fine layers of loneliness, fear in your own home and the feeling of wanting to belong and being rejected from those you love. The movie was released by Wild Eye Releasing on DVD last year in a pristine if bare bones disc and is really worth checking out. It's an amazing television movie that, for whatever reason, fell between the cracks and never got to the classic status I believe it deserves. The book itself is available used on many online sites, so why not treat yourself and pick both up?