Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Spiral Staircase

Robert Siodmak, 1945, bw (8.8*)
Even though this now looks like a film of scary movie cliches, back in its time, it was one of those few films that made true cinema suspense and made it artfully. You might call this film an archetype of the modern psycho-killer film, and now it's been remastered.

A serial killer is targeting women around town that have various types of afflictions. A very young Dorothy McGuire, in the performance of her lifetime, plays a mute women, who, alone in a large house during a storm, begins to feel a hidden menace, as if she is perhaps the killer’s next target.

This is Siodmak’s best directing job to me, as it’s a beautifully shot early film noir, with lots of darkness and shadows casting eerie shapes across the living, as if the darkness itself is somehow grasping at the innocents. It’s not often that a film can maintain fear and suspense with any veracity, yet this film manages to and to also be re-shown often over 60 years later and after perhaps a hundred-thousand less artistic imitations.

The entire film was shot on a soundstage, which makes it even more amazing. It had the look of a small film, but it wasn’t - this was a David O. Selznick Production (Gone With the Wind), and co-starred George Brent and Ethel Barrymore.

It’s more often what you don’t show that is more menacing, our greatest fear is the unknown. I think Siodmak’s film is a very good example of that for most of these modern ‘horror’ filmmakers.

It's amazing to me that this film didn't make any of the film polls in our compendium, at all. At IMDB, it's average rating is 7.6, about .4 away from the top 250, so it's likely in the top 1000 there, which they don't post. Our compendium came up with almost 2300 films mentioned in all the polls put together and this wasn't listed once.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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