The Spiral Staircase (1945, Robert Siodmak)

A thriller directed by the underrated Robert Siodmak and derived from the overrated David O Selznick’s company. Siodmak revels in silence in The Spiral Staircase, for it is when the dialogue, the cosy literariness familiar from the films Hitchcock made under Selznick’s eagle eye and controlling grasp, slips away that he can exercise himself. In these moments of silence Sidomak can build stretches of suspense and moments of shock from a combination of Ophulsian fluidity (tracking shots here also recall Resnais’ later work in Last Year at Marienbad) and Germanic expressionism, zooming in on the irises of prying eyes and revealing their hypnagogic hallucinations. The homage to silent cinema at the beginning of the film speaks a lot for Siodmak- this director, with his roots in the closing days of that era, prefers to get as close to a pure cinema as possible, to experiment and construct within the wide possibilities of the image, to work himself away from the novelistic excesses of the script. Is it not similar impulses that spurred on himself and his soon-to-be distinguished collaborators in Sidomak’s debut People on Sunday in 1929?

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