Curses, Batman! A 'Dark Knight' Jinx?

The late Heath Ledger captivated audiences as The Joker. i i

The late Heath Ledger captivated audiences as The Joker in The Dark Knight. He died of an overdose of prescription drugs in January. Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros. hide caption

itoggle caption Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros.
The late Heath Ledger captivated audiences as The Joker.

The late Heath Ledger captivated audiences as The Joker in The Dark Knight. He died of an overdose of prescription drugs in January.

Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros.
John Gielgud stars in the title role of  'Macbeth' in 1942. i i

John Gielgud stars in the title role of Macbeth at the Piccadilly Theater in London. During the 1942 production, three actors died and the set designer committed suicide. Gordon Anthony/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Gordon Anthony/Getty Images
John Gielgud stars in the title role of  'Macbeth' in 1942.

John Gielgud stars in the title role of Macbeth at the Piccadilly Theater in London. During the 1942 production, three actors died and the set designer committed suicide.

Gordon Anthony/Getty Images

Are some stage and screen projects cursed?

Lately the question has come up around the new Batman movie. Several observers point out — in the London Telegraph, on the Gawker Web site and other places — that The Dark Knight seems blighted.

Evidence: Star-on-the-rise Heath Ledger, who portrays The Joker, died of an overdose of prescription drugs in January. Christian Bale, who plays Batman, was arrested on assault charges after a dust-up with his mother and sister around the time of the film's premiere in London.

And there's more. This week, Morgan Freeman, who plays Bruce Wayne's friend Lucius Fox, was seriously injured in an accident in Mississippi. A special effects technician was killed in a truck accident in September. There were also weirdnesses on the set, according to the Internet Movie Database, including a mysterious fire and a planned explosion that frightened unknowing Londoners.

Other Cinema Curses

Gawker reminds us of the troubles surrounding the three-part Poltergeist series, which began with the 1982 Steven Spielberg blockbuster. Several cast members died — including 12-year-old Heather O'Rourke in 1988 and 22-year-old Dominique Dunne in 1982 — while the sequels were being produced. There were rumors of a real exorcism during one of the filmings and spooky shenanigans on the sets.

Through the years there have been other supposedly cursed films, including Rebel Without a Cause, The Exorcist and The Crow.

The 'Macbeth' Hex

Superstition surrounding stagecraft stretches back before Hollywood. Perhaps the most famous is the curse of Macbeth. For centuries, productions of the play have brought toil and trouble to those involved.

In fact, many thespians won't even say the name, referring to it only as "the Scottish play."

The stigma may stem from the fact that Shakespeare purportedly used real witch incantations in his script and real witches, in turn, put a spell on the play. The Straight Dope Web site lifts the curse up to scrutiny. Some incidents:

• In 1672, the actor portraying Macbeth thrust a real dagger into the actor playing Duncan. And killed him.

• In 1942, during a production starring Sir John Gielgud, two actresses who played witches and the actor playing Duncan died, and the set designer committed suicide.

• In 2001, while the Cambridge Shakespeare Company was staging the play, Lady Macbeth hurt her head, Macduff hurt his back, another actor broke a toe and a pair of cedar trees representing Birnam Wood crashed down on the set.

Back to the jinx on Batman. On the upside, The Dark Knight set a record for the largest opening-day box-office gross — $66.4 million. But still, Michael Caine — who has played in Hamlet and both the Christian Bale Batman movies — might think twice before signing up to play the Thane of Cawdor.

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