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Monday, March 1, 2010

THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1945)


Just as producer Val Lewton was ending his famous series of artsy low-budget thrillers @ RKO, Robert Siodmak came over from Universal Studios to make a new batch of cut-rate Gothic entertainments. This one’s probably the best known, a superbly crafted old-dark-house murder-mystery about a mad-man who’s killing off young, but imperfect women. You know from the start that Dorothy McGuire is at risk since she’s a mute servant girl to George Brent, Gordon Oliver & Rhonda Fleming, members of a dysfunctional family who are waiting for their gruff matriarch to kick off. That’d be Ethel Barrymore who gives one of her toughest, most commanding perfs. Fans of the Lewton unit will be pleased to see many holdovers in cast & crew. (Actors Kent Smith & James Bell, expert noir lenser Nicholas Musuraca, scorer Roy Webb.) And if Lewton’s projects revealed the limitations of an inspired amateur (especially once helmer Jacques Tourneur left him), Siodmak shows the gains & losses of professional polish.

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