In 1979, I was twelve years old (I know I come off as a far older coot that I actually am! Ha!) It seemed as if everywhere I looked, someone was reading a book called “The Legacy.” Distinctive because of its cover with a deep blue background and the head of a menacing-looking white cat, it was hard to miss. This book was not a novel that later became a movie, but rather the novelization of a screenplay for a movie that was soon to be released. Universal Studios pressed to turn the tome into a best-seller so that said fact could be extolled on the movie's poster, lending the film a hint of faux literary cache.
The Legacy tells the tale of an attractive female architect and designer (Katharine Ross) who is summoned from her Los Angeles home for a well-paying job in England. She's purportedly won the contract on the basis of her solid reputation as a designer, though her own apartment is rather tough on the eyes with its bold lime green concept (this was the late-'70s, however.)
Her live-in boyfriend (Sam Elliott) is reluctant to pick up and leave on the basis of the offer, but since Ross has investigated that the advance check (for $50,000) is legit, the pair decides to go forward and enjoy some of the English countryside and local color in the bargain.
(There are those who believe her heavily-green, plant-laden dwelling is intended to suggest The Garden of Eden. Ross even offers Elliott a piece of fruit for breakfast at the end of the scene. Note also the Eve-like hair with a flower in it.)
Light packers indeed, they tour the area on a motorcycle with only a couple of small bags in their possession. While they are riding around and enjoying themselves, the credits for the film roll and a love theme “Another Side of Me” plays (sung by Kiki Dee!)
Their enjoyment is tempered by a close call with a Rolls-Royce limousine that sends them careening off the road and into a leaf-strewn patch of ground. They are okay enough, but the bike needs repair. The gentleman (John Standing) whose limo sent them barrelling off the road convinces them to come to his sprawling estate for a cup of tea while the motorcycle is seen to in a small local garage.
Ross, perhaps wary all along of Elliott's skill behind the wheel, went ahead and wore a whiplash collar that day just in case!
Once inside the gates of the ancient mansion grounds, Ross and Elliott are amazed to find a house chock full of priceless antique furniture and art and a glistening indoor swimming pool with the family crest emblazoned on the floor of it.
The ornate house is overflowing with objects, artifacts and furniture (not to mention cats, an omnipresent white one in particular.) Before they can believe that they are going to have tea there, they are instead asked to bring their belongings up to “their room” by an austere nurse (Margaret Tyzack.)
It seems the motorcycle is going to need repairs that can't be completed until the next day, so the couple tentatively decides to accept this (rather forced) hospitality. Opting to “rest” for a while with a tumble in the antique bed, they are eventually roused by the sound of a helicopter. After landing on the grounds of the estate, a quartet of guests are spilled out.
The elegantly-appointed guests (Charles Gray, Lee Montague, Hildegard Neil and Marianne Broome) are an international selection of folks who are tops in their chosen fields, a group who seem connected only in that they all know and apparently work for the man who owns the mansion.
After having taken notice of Broome, the younger and more physically appealing of the newly-arrived ladies, through the bedroom window, Elliott proceeds to the film's most memorable and appealing set piece. We see him from the rear, naked as a jaybird, trotting over to the enclosed shower for a quick scrub down.
Elliott's body at this stage of his career was like a work of art and no one who has ever seen this sequence of The Legacy has ever forgotten it!
He stands in the stall (photographed at one point through the nozzle!), enjoying the steamy, soapy shower while Ross is in the bedroom, bundled up in a robe by the fire. Just as she puts a small log on the flames to increase the temperature, Elliott's shower suddenly becomes scalding hot, threatening to scorch his amazing buns and heaven knows what else!
Unable to do anything with the faucet, he is finally left with no choice but to burst his way through the glass shower door, cutting his shoulder and sending shards of glass flying. (The shot shown in the publicity picture above is not in the final cut of the film. Elliott is only shown from the waist up, breaking through the door.)
Ross heads downstairs to retrieve some first aid supplies and comes upon Tyzack in the midst of instructing a passel of aged, not particularly welcoming, servants as to how things need to be over the course of the guests' visit. The incredibly formal and severe, though not impolite, Tyzack gives Ross the supplies and promises to have the bathroom seen to.
Next it is time for cocktails and so the guests (minus their host Standing) converge and begin to chat one another up. Elliott, out of place and bored by most of the goings on, follows after the limo driver to ask about his bike, but loses him. He then proceeds to the swimming pool where the lithe and blonde Broome is having a languorous swim. He's unaccountably flirty with her despite being in the company of Ross (who he's just bedded a short while beforehand!)
Ross and Elliott leave Broome to finish her swim before it's time for dinner and meet still another newcomer and final guest, a rock music hell-raiser (played by real life rock star Roger Daltrey of The Who.)
We see Broome cavorting in the water for a while, but then as she attempts to come up for air after one lengthy swirl near the bottom, she is prevented from piercing the surface by some unseen force. This is another one of the movie's more memorable sequences as most viewers can only imagine the horror of being nearly out of breath from swimming and the not being able to break through the water and take in some air!
During the last remnants of the cocktail hour, Tyzack enters and makes it known that there has been an accident. The guests file into the pool area and find Broome floating face down in the pool, the victim, they believe, of a diving accident. No one seems particularly devastated or affected by this other than Ross and Elliott, who are by now more than ready to depart the grounds, the sooner the better!
Having barely gotten a chance to process this happening, Ross is summoned to an upstairs meeting between the mansion's owner and the remaining four other guests. (Elliott is excluded from participating.) She enters the dimly-lit, mechanism-filled room in which a sterilized chamber featuring long white curtains holds her host. The remaining guests are seated in a row while she is called to the bedside by a wheezing, barely audible voice.
Cautiously approaching the drapery, she follows the creaky, ghastly voice and attempts to find a break in the material that she can pull back. Suddenly, a craggy, wrinkled, discolored hand with talon-like nails reaches through and grabs her arm while another slips a ring on her finger. The ring is of the family crest that is featured throughout the home and each of the other house guests wears one exactly like it.
She tries everything conceivable other than chopping off her finger to remove the ring, but it is practically fused to her hand. Now inconsolable, she wants to leave immediately. The next morning, Tyzack informs the couple that the police want to interview them about Broome's demise, but neither of them recall having seen or heard any police on the grounds.
Elliott says he will not wait for the police to return, but that they can find him in town. He heads outside to tell the chauffeur that he and Ross must be taken to town at once. His conversation is interrupted by an arrow shot from Gray, who is practicing the crossbow with Montague.
Gray insinuates that it was an accident, but Elliott isn't convinced. He goes inside to retrieve Ross, but once they head out the door, the driver has stormed off in a cloud of dust, leaving them stranded again.
Elliott and Ross decide to sneak out to the stable and abscond with two horses. They take one that's ready to go and quickly saddle up another only to be attacked by a trio of groomsmen who don't want to let them go.
They manage to escape and take off across the countryside on horseback. Eventually, the come to the near-deserted little village where Elliott's motorcycle was left for repair and when they go to see if it's there, they find it dismantled!
Just then, they spy the chauffeur visiting a home across the street and while he is inside briefly, they take off in the car. Momentarily forgetting that they are in England, Ross darts into the right-hand side, which is where the steering wheel is located!
They drive and drive and drive, but never seem to get anywhere. No matter what road they choose, they always wind up back at the mansion they've been trying to escape from. Even when a frustrated Elliott takes over the wheel, they get nowhere. Finally, a tearful Ross consigns herself to the fact that she has to stay and face whatever is in store for her, so they go back inside. (The music, by the way, in this "escape" sequence is a wretched disco-ish version of the love theme!)
No one acts as if anything unusual has happened. Neil comes to Ross' room with an armful of dresses and says that she may pick one out to wear to dinner that night. She goes on to explain some of the immense power that is available to Ross from their host if she will only accept it. Then dinner is served and Ross appears in a long, square-necked gown with her hair piled up (while Elliott makes do with his casual clothes.)
As they are all partaking from the incredible spread of food that the staff has laid out, Ross helps Daltrey to some ham, which doesn't seem to agree with him. He begins choking, eventually failing to catch his breath at all. Elliott sweeps him up and sprawls him onto the table where an icily methodical Tyback prepares to offer Daltrey a tracheotomy using one of the menacing-looking knives from the estate's silver service!
This doesn't work out at all, resulting in yet another death. The irony, though, is that they discover a chicken bone caught in Daltrey's throat when, in fact, he'd had no chicken, only a bite of ham and some pate!
During a conversation between Ross and Gray in the mansion's library, Ross is confronted with a look-alike painting of the house's former owner from many year's prior. (She happens to have selected the one dress of Neil's that most closely echoes the one in the painting, right down to the necklace!)
Afterwards, Gray is standing near the fire when suddenly it erupts. Flames jut out and engulf him, burning him to death until just a quivering stack of charred bones is left (while the carpet and the rest of the room remain as they were.)
Tyzack later informs Elliott that Gray “had to leave on business” but Elliott discovers that the car is still in the garage, not having delivered Gray anyplace. He then sees a servant take a bag of charred, steaming matter and toss it on the ground near a grate. Elliott is horrified to determine from the ring on one of the bones that it is Gray's remains! Before he can do anything more, a gaggle of vicious dogs begin to chase him away. After doing all they can to gnaw on him, they return to the pile of bones and proceed to eat away the evidence.
Ross has come upon some newspaper clippings that describe how the other guests all committed some sort of crime which they got away with. The deaths thus far echo the original crimes of the victims. Now Elliott and Ross are frantic to get away, but feel they must warn Neil and Montague of the danger, too. They ask Neil to pack her things and leave with them in the car, but cannot locate Montague. It turns out he's in full-on panic mode, believing them to be the killers, and has decided to take them out with a shotgun from the roof.
Neil never makes it downstairs because there's a special sort of demise waiting for her as well. Then Montague makes his presence known with a few shotgun blasts as Ross and Elliott are headed to the car. Elliott has to try to fend off his assailant with a crossbow, the only weapon at hand, while shotgun pellets dot his every spot on the ground.
A beleaguered, injured Elliott climbs up the stairs of the mansion, fending off Tyzack in the process, and heading into the equipment-packed bedroom of mansion owner Standing. In a fury, he breaks through the glass enclosure and begins trashing the place. (Fun as this is, I can't help but prefer his previous door-smashing, when he was au naturel...)
The whole thing comes to an end in a surprising (and some might say lunatic) twist, which generally doesn't jibe with the events heretofore witnessed. Some viewers, however, claim that this ending was insinuated throughout to those with keen eyes. In any case, even if the ending makes sense for Ross' character, it certainly doesn't match up with Elliott's very well!
For so many years, people have associated Katharine Ross with Sam Elliott, one could be forgiven for thinking that they were a couple when they made this film. In truth, it was during the making of this movie that their romantic relationship first began to develop. He'd had a bit role (his debut) in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) in which she costarred, but they didn't meet at that time. The Legacy marked their first introduction and though she was still married to her fourth husband, that union was coming to an end. She and Elliott have been together ever since, marrying in 1984 when their first child was soon to be born.
After having worked on TV and in movies like Shenandoah (her debut in 1965) and The Singing Nun (1966), Ross shot to fame (and an Oscar nomination) with The Graduate (1967.) The Academy Award went to Estelle Parsons for Bonnie and Clyde, though she picked up a Golden Globe as Most Promising Newcomer. Finicky about the size of her parts (she turned down both Bullitt, 1968, and Airport, 1970, both of which went to Jacqueline Bisset and were huge successes), she lost momentum until starring in 1975's The Stepford Wives.
This photo below is of her examining the script of The Legacy for the first time. Just kidding!
Her other two 1978 films were potential career-killers. The Betsy didn't do her too much harm, but The Swarm was an artistic and financial flop. From 1980 on, her career leaned more towards television (she's seen here with Elliott in the 1981 TV-movie Murder in Texas.) She was part of the star-laden cast of The Colbys from 1985-1987, but was more focused on her new baby girl than performing. Since that series' cancellation, appearances have been less and less. Now seventy-three, she and her daughter by Elliott were involved in a bizarre incident in 2011 in which the daughter allegedly attacked Ross with a pair of scissors, requiring a restraining order!
Elliott has his own tribute in The Underworld here, so I won't go on about him again. The Legacy is somewhat similar in concept to his earlier movie Frogs (1972) in which he was an outsider among a group of wealthy malcontents who are killed off one by one. (Similarly, Ross' role in Stepford had her as the sole female surrounded by mysterious-acting people.) Unlike his wife, Elliott remains pretty active in TV and movies. He is now sixty-nine.
Gray was known for playing aristocratic, often sneeringly villainous, parts. Having begun in television and movies in the late-1950s, he proceeded to a busy career containing a couple of iconic parts. He played the dastardly Ernst Stavro Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and in 1975 portrayed the criminologist in the cult smash The Rocky Horror Picture Show. (He claimed never to have met the rest of the cast nor ever even seen the movie) Gray died of throat cancer in 2000 at the age of seventy-one, having worked right up to that time.
Montague has been working in films since the early-1950s, often portraying tough or insidious characters, though his role here is generally good-natured and passive until desperation sets in. Among his many credits are Billy Budd (1962), How I Won the War (1967) with Michael Crawford and John Lennon and Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972) for Franco Zeffirelli, though he still acts occasionally today at age eighty-six.
Neil acted on stage and in TV and movies, often in Shakespearean parts. Her first TV role was Calpurnia in a 1963 rendition of Julius Caesar. In 1972, Charlton Heston selected her for his film Anthony and Cleopatra, which was not well received at all, though Heston continued to praise her work. Other films include A Touch of Class (1975) and The Mirror Crack'd (1980), in which she was featured in the film-within-the film. In 1978, she married prolific character actor Brian Blessed and they remain together today, working occasionally. She is seventy-four.
Broome, whose chief contribution to the film is a lengthy swim in the pool, was a real-life Olympic swimmer! She was British, but was raised in Malaysia, and swam for them in 1976. Four years after those Canadian Olympics, she returned to Canada where she took up painting for a living. Now closing in on sixty, The Legacy was the last role in her brief career as an actress.
After considerable success in The Who, Daltrey began to branch out into acting when the album Tommy was made into a film, in which he played the title role. His part in The Legacy echoes that of another singer who played an obnoxious musician who chokes to death during cocktails: Fabian in Ten Little Indians (1965.) He has dabbled in acting from time to time, but music has remained his chief interest. He is currently sixty-nine.
Standing's role in this film is limited, but he tries to make the most out of it. A busy character actor, one of Britain's most respected talents, he has appeared in countless roles on stage, TV and movies such as The Eagle has Landed (1976), The Elephant Man (1980), Chaplin (1992) and V for Vendetta (2005.) He is seventy-nine at present and still acts today.
As the mysterious, crisply menacing nursemaid, Tyzack is my favorite performer in The Legacy. With this creepy, starchy part, she joins others of a similar ilk who I have always adored such as Dame Judith Anderson in Rebecca (1940) and Elizabeth Ashley in Coma (1978.) A sterling stage actress (who won a Tony in 1990 for Lettice and Lovage), she popped up in landmark miniseries such as The Forsyte Saga (1967) and I, Claudius (1976) along with movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969) and A Clockwork Orange (1971.) She even worked for Woody Allen in Match Point in 2005. Cancer claimed her in 2011 at the age of seventy-nine and she worked semi-regularly up until then.
Love theme songstress Kiki Dee enjoyed a forty-year career in music with hits like “I've Got the Music in Me” and “Don't Go Breakin' My Heart” (a duet with Elton John.) She is currently sixty-six.
The Legacy was a hit, raking in four times its cost. At the time, Satanic and supernatural based films were enjoying a wave of popularity from The Possession of Joel Delaney (1972) to The Omen (1976) to Damien: The Omen II (1978) to Burnt Offerings (1976) and so on. The plot is positively riddled with lapses in logic and sensibility, but so long as one doesn't dwell on it too much, it is entertaining thanks to a strong cast, creative direction and a palpable, creepy atmosphere.
Speaking of direction, the man in charge of this film was Richard Marquand. A BBC documentarian, this was his first fictional feature film. Later, he directed Eye of the Needle (1981), which led to his selection as the director of Return of the Jedi (1983.) Another massive hit came with 1985's Jagged Edge. Sadly, he died in 1987 of a stroke at only age forty-nine.
Often on this site, I have groused about the way some foreign release posters feature more arresting photography or artwork than the U.S. version. This shot at left from a Japanese booklet adds the stars' faces to the familiar cat/hand artwork and I like it, especially Sam's eyes.
However, this one here is hysterically “off,” featuring a sight that is never represented in the movie. Were I Margaret Tyzack and still alive today, I would make this my Facebook profile picture without hesitation!