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Monday, 8 October 2018

On Blu-ray - David Hare loves Robert Siodmak's superb noir THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1944)

Screens from the latest Kino Lorber Blu-ray of Siodmak's terrific Gothic melodrama-noir, The Spiral Staircase, from a new 4K scan taken from a very nice 35mm Fine Grain. 
Carlton the Bulldog (above) is probably the most placid character in the show.


The Murderer's eye (above)snatched from a superb slow lap dissolve/montage from the eye to the mind of Helen, the heroine. 
More interesting is the ever-pneumatic Rhonda Fleming (above), an RKO stalwart if ever there was one. 
Then there is George Brent with Gordon Oliver (above), the latter playing Steve, the warring brother to Kent Smith. 
If I haven't included any images of the leads, it's because the two players are both virtual ciphers in a puzzle. Kent Smith, surely the most lugubrious leading man in American cinema, and Dorothy Maguire as the "fragile" Helen, here a mere target device for the innumerable plot machinations. 
The movie really sings with the secondary, and bit players. Among them Ethel Barrymore, the perpetually mad Elsa Lanchester, James Bell (the doctor from I Walked with a Zombie.) And all this lyricism photographed to a chiaroscuro tee by Nick Musuraca, the king of DPs at RKO, along with production design by the great Albert d’Agostino. 
The picture was born from a weird coupling of Producer Selznick (and, off the record, Dore Schary) and RKO. With two Chopin and Beethoven piano pieces gracing the opening of the film's score to create mood for the silent movie era setting, the rest of the picture is entirely scored by the unsung hero of RKO and film music everywhere, Roy Webb. 
82 minutes of perfectly rendered pleasure with a surface as polished in smooth cinematic strokes as its heart is brittle and sharp. I hate saying this about every Siodmak picture I ever see but it's one of his best. The whole period from 1944 and Phantom Lady (and Cobra Woman!!) to the end of the 40s and Criss Cross is one of the great periods of one of the greatest American directors. 
The disc is a doozy and a must have. 
Next, Flicker Alley's new BD of another long missing noir,The Man Who Cheated Himself  from 1950.

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