Thursday, February 2, 2012

Some Thoughts on The Spiral Staircase (1945)

I hardly need to tell anyone that Robert Siodmak's thriller comes close to early perfection of the form (and is stylistically closer to my heart than Hitchcock's comparable films, but let's not go there), nor that the biggest hurdles it has overcome for a modern viewer are its alcoholism-based comic relief, its jerky romantic lead (who fortunately isn't important to the narrative at all and disappears from it early on - it's a film most interested in its female characters), and what can be read as its ableist tendencies. Siodmak overcomes most of these problems through the sheer beauty of his filmmaking, an eye for mood-building detail and a sense for filmic rhythm that just stops this viewer from thinking about possible flaws in the narrative. It's the sort of film that establishes its position as a period piece and the character of its lead by having her visit a silent movie.

With the high quality of filmmaking (Nicholas Musuraca's photography being another special point of beauty) a given, what I found most remarkable rewatching The Spiral Staircase was, how much of the film visually pre-shadows the giallo. There are shots and scenes that will later be quoted (by Bava and Argento, for example) and re-quoted (by directors unconsciously quoting Bava's quotes) in just about every Italian film of the genre you'd care to mention. No genre is, of course, without its predecessors, but I've seldom seen a whole genre (except for the sleaze and the colour) so close to coming into existence twenty years before the fact.


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