The Spiral Staircase (2000 TVM)

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Not so much a remake, more a sorry porridge!
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Canada, US / 88 minutes / color / Shavick, Saban International Dir: James Head Pr: Shawn Williamson Scr: Matt Dorff Story: Some Must Watch (1933) by Ethel Lina White and (uncredited) The Circular Staircase (1908) by Mary Roberts Rinehart, plus screenplay by Mel Dinelli, Helen Hayes and Robert Siodmak for The SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1945) Cine: Gordon Verheul Cast: Nicollette Sheridan, Judd Nelson, Alex McArthur, Debbe Dunning, Christina Jastrzembska, Dolores Drake, David Storch, William McDonald, Holland Taylor, John Innes, Brenda Campbell, Candice McClure (i.e., Kandyse McClure), Dallas Thompson, Charles Payne, Kristina Matisic.

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Although this movie claims in its opening credits to be a remake of Robert Siodmak’s classic period noir The SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1945), just about everything that distinguished the original movie from a run-of-the-mill murder mystery has been excised.

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Despite all the plot-changes, this remake is ready to offer the occasional visual quote from Siodmak’s original.

Perhaps most importantly, the killer’s motivation has been altered. In the original, the killer has a psychotic detestation of disabilities in women; this puts our heroine, who’s a traumatic mute, in severe danger of being his next victim. Here the motive’s just the humdrum one of financial gain—there’s an inheritance up for grabs—and, when this motive is suddenly produced in the final minutes, it makes no sense, because we’ve been told the killer has been murdering and assaulting pretty young women at random for some while. Furthermore, the muteness of the central character has no real impact on the plot—in fact (and this is actually quite cleverly done), we’re a good few minutes into the movie before we realize she’s mute at all.

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Helen (Nicollette Sheridan) hears a strange noise outside her bedroom.

Here’s the plot in short:

There’s a prologue in which a young girl (not properly identified in the credits) is walking home at night in Westport, Washington State, when she encounters Continue reading

Shadows on the Stairs (1941)

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So many seedy secrets behind a boarding house’s doors!
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vt Murder on the Second Floor
US / 62 minutes / bw / Warner–First National Dir: D. Ross Lederman Pr: Bryan Foy Scr: Anthony Coldeway Story: Murder on the Second Floor (1929 play) by Frank Vosper Cine: Allen G. Siegler Cast: Frieda Inescort, Paul Cavanagh, Heather Angel, Bruce Lester, Miles Mander, Lumsden Hare, Turhan Bey, Charles Irwin, Phyllis Barry, Mary Field, Paul Renay.

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London, 1937, and on the surface Mrs. Armitage’s boarding house appears tranquil enough. But, as we soon find out, not all is as it seems . . .

The movie opens at the docks. One of Mrs. Armitage’s lodgers, Joe Reynolds (Cavanagh), observes as another, Ram Singh (Bey), helps smuggle a small trunk onto the dock and away. Back at the boarding house next morning, it’s clear that the two are in uneasy, mutually suspicious cahoots.

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Ram Singh (Turhan Bey) awaits the arrival of the smuggled box.

Not all is well among the building’s other occupants. Startled while clearing away the breakfast things, the maid, Lucy Timpson (Barry), drops a tray of dirty dishes and is promptly and viciously fired by the landlady, ex-actress Stella Armitage (Inescort). Joe has been carrying on a long-term affair with Stella—in fact, it was he who bought the boarding house for her to run ten years ago when her acting days were over. Stella’s chess-fiend husband Tom (Mander), likewise an ex-actor—he boasts he once played the aunt in Charley’s Aunt—is oblivious to the pair’s shenanigans even after a decade. On the other hand, Stella is equally oblivious to the fact that her lover Joe has been canoodling on the side with Lucy.

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Lucy (Phyllis Barry) is startled by various goings-on.

Also living in the house are Miss Phoebe Marcia St. John Snell (Field)—“I usually leave out the Marcia”—a spinster who sublimates her unmentionable yearnings by reading an endless string of fevered romance novels; and a young, would-be playwright, Hugh Bromilow (Lester). Hugh is carrying on with Stella’s daughter Sylvia (Angel), but at least for the moment in what we might call Continue reading

o/t: leisure reading in November

I decided to devote this month to reading fiction in translation, and for the most part had a moderately good time, the standout being Sascha Arango’s The Truth and Other Lies (thanks to Mrs Peabody for my copy of this splendidly twisty novel), though Claudia Piñeiro’s All Yours ran it a damn’ close second. I’d expected to make inroads into my hefty backlog of Scandinoir, including several Jo Nesbo titles, but in fact I barely touched them.

The links are as usual to my Goodreads notes.

 

Midnight Catch (2012)

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A cop with a heart and a brutal murderer with a conscience!
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US / 21 minutes / color / Halcyon Valor, One Forest Dir & Scr: Jamison M. LoCascio Pr: Louis J. Ambrosio, Jamison M. LoCascio, Collen Doyle Cine: Conor Shillen Cast: Tyrone Grant, Skyler Pinkerton.

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A very simple tale with a profoundly neonoir affect.

After looking furtively around him, a young man goes into a bar; we’ll learn his name is James Price (Pinkerton—an excellent surname for an actor in a noir movie to have!). He’s not long settled when another customer enters, Cole (Grant).

Cole, who’s probably about old enough to be Price’s father, starts up a conversation with him and soon succeeds in getting him to relax. It’s a fairly typical bar conversation, with the older man producing bits of homespun wisdom for the edification of his junior. Stuff like: Continue reading

Killing Me Softly (2002)

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She loves him . . . but does she really know who he is?
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US, UK / 100 minutes / color / MGM, Montecito, Noelle Dir: Chen Kaige Pr: Lynda Myles, Joe Medjuck, Michael Chinich Scr: Kara Lindstrom Story: Killing Me Softly (1999) by Nicci French Cine: Michael Coulter Cast: Heather Graham, Joseph Fiennes, Natascha McElhone, Ulrich Thomsen, Ian Hart, Jason Hughes, Kika Markham, Amy Robbins, Yasmin Bannerman, Rebecca Palmer, Ronan Vibert, Olivia Poulet.

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A psychological thriller that, while it’s far from a masterpiece, I’d maintain is rather better than it’s usually given credit for.

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Alice (Graham) is an American who’s been in London these past two years working as a designer of CD-ROMs and websites for corporate clients. For six months now she’s lived with her boyfriend, Jake (Hughes), in a relationship that’s become affectionate and comfortable, albeit no longer fiery.

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Jake (Jason Hughes) is a comfortable companion.

One day on the way to work she accidentally touches fingers with a mysterious stranger, mountaineer Adam Tallis (Fiennes), at a pedestrian stop sign, and there’s an instant attraction. Soon they’re in a taxi to the apartment where he’s living—in fact his sister’s—and, once they get there, they promptly Continue reading

Inside Information (1934)

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Not your average Tarzan movie!
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US / 49 minutes / bw / Consolidated, Stage & Screen Dir: Robert F. Hill Pr: Bert Sternbach, Albert Herman Scr: Bob Lively, Betty Laidlaw Story: Bert Ennis, Victor Potel Cine: George Meehan Cast: Rex Lease, Marion Shilling, Philo McCollough, Charles King, Henry Hall, Robert McKenzie, Victor Potel, Jean Porter, Henry Roquemore, Jimmy Aubrey, Robert F. Hill, Charles Harper, Tarzan the Police Dog.

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The star of this short feature is the dog Tarzan. Inside Information was the first of the three Melodramatic Dog Features, each starring Tarzan, to be produced by the Beyond Poverty Row studio Consolidated Pictures. The other two were Million Dollar Haul (1935) and Captured in Chinatown (1935); in the latter, Marion Shilling and Philo McCollough (there spelled McCullough) would once more be his costars.

Lloyd Wilson (Lease) has persuaded Police Chief Gallagher (director Hill) to ask the Police Commissioner (Roquemore) for a special medal for Lloyd’s dog Tarzan (self). The Commissioner’s dubious, so Lloyd tells the tale of Tarzan’s intelligence and valor . . .

Lloyd informs the Commissioner that he’s Assistant Cashier at the City Investment Co. . . . although later in the extended flashback that makes up almost the entirety of the movie it seems Continue reading

Argyle Secrets, The (1948)

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A journo on the run after a double homicide! A femme fatale to (maybe) die for! My, whatever next?
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US / 64 minutes / bw / Film Classics Dir & Scr: Cyril Endfield (i.e., Cy Endfield) Pr: Alan H. Posner, Sam X. Abarbanel Story: The Argyle Album (1945 radio play in the CBS series Suspense) by Cy Endfield Cine: Mack Stengler Cast: William Gargan, Marjorie Lord, Ralph Byrd, Jack Reitzen, John Banner, Barbara Billingsley, Alex Fraser, Peter Brocco, George Anderson, Mickey Simpson, Alvin Hammer, Carole Donne, Mary Tarcai, Robert Kellard, Kenneth Greenwald, Herbert Rawlinson.

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Impressionistic or what?

The Herald’s veteran Washington correspondent Allen Pierce (Anderson) has been staying in an NYC hotel while preparing to spill the goods in the paper about the mysterious Argyle Album (“album” as in “dossier”). No one except Pierce and his secretary, Elizabeth Court (Billingsley), know what the Argyle Album actually is—no one but them and the bad guys, that is.

Pierce is admitted to hospital, where he’s tended by Dr. Van Selbin (Rawlinson). The city’s journos are, naturally, avid for an interview with him, but the only person he’ll see is Herald reporter Harry Mitchell (Gargan). He shows Harry a photocopy of the cover of the Argyle Album, but then suddenly falls ill and dies. Harry lets his photographer, “Pinky” Pincus (Hammer), into the room to guard the corpse and then Continue reading

Witness for the Prosecution (1982 TVM)

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A very good remake of a classic movie!
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UK, US / 102 minutes / color / United Artists Dir: Alan Gibson Pr: Norman Rosemont Scr: John Gay Story: “Traitor’s Hands” (1925 Flynn’s Weekly) and Witness for the Prosecution (1953 play), both by Agatha Christie, and the screenplay for Witness for the Prosecution (1957) by Billy Wilder, Harry Kurnitz and Larry Marcus Cine: Arthur Ibbetson Cast: Ralph Richardson, Deborah Kerr, Beau Bridges, Donald Pleasence, Wendy Hiller, Diana Rigg, David Langton, Richard Vernon, Peter Sallis, Michael Gough, Frank Mills, Michael Nightingale, Peter Copley, Patricia Leslie, Primi Townsend.

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Christie’s play has been filmed several times. The most famous adaptation is quite clearly Billy Wilder’s 1957 movie Witness for the Prosection, featuring Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester, Tyron Power and, in what’s effectively an unorthodox version of the femme fatale role, Marlene Dietrich.

Because of the fame of the Wilder adaptation, it’s easy to think it must have been the first. Not so. As far as I can gather, the first movie adaptation was Continue reading

Where’s Marlowe? (1998)

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Two flies on the wall of the PI’s office!
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US / 99 minutes / color with some bw / Western Sandblast, H2O Paramount Dir: Daniel Pyne Pr: Clayton Townsend Scr: John Mankiewicz, Daniel Pyne Cine: Greg Gardiner Cast: Miguel Ferrer, Mos Def, John Livingston, Allison Dean, John Slattery, Elizabeth Schofield, Barbara Howard, Clayton Rohner, Miguel Sandoval, David Newsom, Olivia Rosewood, Kirk Baltz, Bill McKinney, Heather McComb, Wendy Crewson.

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A mockumentary in much the same spirit as Rob Reiner’s Spinal Tap (1985) but focusing not on rock but on another supposedly glamorous profession, that of the noirish private eye.

The last documentary made by A.J. Edison (Livingston) and Wilton “Wilt” Crawley (Def), a three-hour epic called Water in the Apple: How New Yorkers Get their Water, was a tad unsuccessful—to euphemize. “I don’t believe you can cover a topic of that magnitude in less than three hours,” according to A.J. “And I don’t care what the festival people say.”

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A.J. (John Livingston) and Wilt (Mos Def) spy on some sinful canoodling.

(As an aside, the notion that the story of New York’s water supplies is an inherently boring topic seems rather askew. It’s a fascinating tale, and I’d happily watch a documentary about it. Okay, maybe not a documentary three hours long.)

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Joe (Miguel Ferrer) fancies himself as a screen personality.

And so they go in search of a subject that might have greater commercial potential . . . which leads them to the LA detective agency Boone & Murphy Inquiries and an agreement to make a documentary about the day-to-day operation of their business. One partner, Joe Boone (Ferrer), is very keen on Continue reading

o/t

I’m too sick at heart to post a movie writeup here today, even though it’s a Wednesday. I hope normal service will be resumed on Saturday.

They made America small again. And petty, and mean, and vile.