The Changeling (1980) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • A man staying at a secluded historical mansion finds himself being haunted by the presence of a spectre.

  • It was the perfect family vacation for composer John Russell and his family when a freak automobile accident claims the lives of his wife and daughter. Consumed by grief, John, at the request of friends, rents an old turn of the century house. Mammoth in size, the house seems all the room that John needs to write music and reflect. He does not realize that he is not alone in the house. He shares it with the spirit of a child who has homed in on John's despair and uses him to uncover decades of silence and deceit. With the help of Claire Norman, the one who aided John in procuring the house, they race to find the answers and soon learn that a devious and very powerful man guards them.

  • The local Senator Carmichael is helping to fund the local arts and famous composer John Russell. Unbeknownst to everyone and even Senator Carmichael, his ancestry and fortune isn't true. After the composer is the last survivor in a terrible wreck and his family gone, he is reluctantly forced to rent the old and vacant Carmichael mansion for a temporary assignment. He hopes to relax after the mourning of his recently deceased daughter and wife and give him inspiration for more musical works and move on with his life. Only when the house turns out to be haunted does everything become unraveled in a plot of unimaginable magnitude. Even the new musical piece of work Russell is working on is not even his own unique work. What mysterious haunting is going on here?

  • A man whose family is killed in a road accident retires to a lonely mansion and begins to experience supernatural occurrences linked to the house's mysterious past and its previous owners.

  • After the death of his beloved wife and daughter, hit by a truck in a snowing road upstate New York, the composer and music professor John Russell moves to Seattle to teach music in the local university. He leases a huge mansion in Chessman Park that belongs to the Historical Society and has been empty for twelve years. John hears some weird noises always at 6:00 AM and later he experiences the contact of the ghost of a child that lived many decades ago in the house. He researches the history of the house, and discloses a despicable secret.

  • John Russell, a composer and music professor, loses his wife and daughter in a tragic accident. Seeking solace, he moves into an old mansion unoccupied for twelve years. But a child-like presence seems to be sharing the house, and trying to share its secrets, with him. Through research into the house's past and a seance held within, Russell discovers the horrific secret of the house's past, a secret that the presence will no longer allow to be kept.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • John Russell (George C. Scott), a composer living in New York City, moves cross-country to Washington state following the deaths of his wife and daughter in a traffic accident while on a winter vacation in upstate New York. In suburban Seattle, John rents a large, old and eerie Victorian-era mansion and begins piecing his life back together.

    However, John soon discovers that he has unexpected and unwelcome company in his new home: the unhappy ghost of a murdered young boy. The ghost makes its presence felt by various phenomena such as shattering windows, abruptly opening and shutting doors, and manifesting itself dramatically during a seance. John investigates the identity of the dead child and finds that the mystery is linked to a powerful local family, the heir of which is a wealthy United States senator, Joseph Carmichael (Melvyn Douglas).

    John subsequently discovers that the real Joseph Carmichael was murdered by his father, Richard. Joseph was a crippled, sickly child, and in the event of his death before his 21st birthday, the family fortune (which he inherited from his late maternal grandfather) would pass to charity. Desperate to keep control of the fortune, Joseph's father drowned young Joseph in the bathtub, secretly replaced him with a healthy orphan, and took him to Europe in the guise of seeking a treatment or cure. He returned several years later with the impostor, now grown and "cured" of his illness, and continued as if nothing had happened.

    Now, the ghost of the real Joseph haunts the house, making great efforts to persuade John to investigate his murder, and give him some form of justice. John's investigation leads him to a property that was once owned by the Carmichael family, and after convincing Mrs. Gray (the owner of the property and whose daughter has seen Joseph's ghost), John discovers the skeletal remains of Joseph in a well, as well as his birth medal.

    After refusing to hand the medal over to the police, John attempts to speak to Senator Carmichael as he is about to depart by plane but is restrained by police. It is then revealed that the Senator has an identical medal to the one John found. The Senator then sends a policeman, Captain Dewitt (John Colicos), to John's home in an attempt to retrieve the medal, John refuses and when Dewitt leaves to obtain a search warrant, his vehicle "mysteriously" crashes, killing him.

    After hearing of Dewitt's death, the Senator finally agrees to listen to John's story and meets with him. John reveals the entire story to the Senator, that his father murdered his natural son and replaced him with a changeling, which is the Senator. The Senator refuses to believe the story and angrily berates John for accusing his father, whom he claims was a "loving man", of murder. John then leaves the Senator Joseph's medal, files and the only copy of the seance recording and apologizes. The Senator threatens John that there will be consequences if he has told anyone else of his story.

    Meanwhile, John's realtor and friend, Claire (Trish Van Devere), goes to the house alone in an attempt to find John and is chased by Joseph's wheelchair until she falls down the stairs. Meanwhile the house begins to shake and rumble. John arrives, and escorts Claire outside, and then goes back inside to try and stop the ghost of Joseph. A strong wind causes John to fall from the second story, but he survives. Joseph then lights the house on fire.

    Back at the Senator's home, he is observing the two birth medallions, and throws Joseph's away while placing his own on a portrait of his father. Suddenly, the picture and the desk start shaking violently and an illusion of the Senator is transported to the house and begins to climb the stairs which then crumble. John sees the Senator's illusion walking up the main staircase, and narrowly escapes being crushed by a chandelier.

    Meanwhile, the Senator's illusion then climbs the stairs to Joseph's attic room where he witnesses how his father murdered the real Joseph by drowning him. Back at the mansion, the Senator himself suffers a heart attack and dies as Joseph's attic room explodes. John and Claire arrive and see the Senator's body being hoisted away. The ambulance then passes the Carmichael mansion which is now completely engulfed in flames.

    The next morning, at the ruins of the mansion, Joseph's burnt wheelchair is seen sitting upright and his music box then opens and begins playing a lullaby, possibly signifying that the justice he wanted has finally been served.

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