Saturday, May 21, 2011

Drama on a Staircase - The Movie

Death at the top of a staircase stalks a mute girl played by by the silently expressive Dorothy McGuire. 

Some say this is Hitchcock's uber classic film. James Stewart's character is terrified of heights, near the end he must climb up rickety church tower stairs. Uh oh.

Another church tower that needs climbing near the end. This time by Orson Welles' nefarious character. He plays a Nazi (in disguise) who has built a small town life in America, married to the unsuspecting Loretta Young.

One of the great love scenes in American cinema is precipitated by Heath Ledger's rush down a flight of stairs into Jake Gyllenhaal's arms. Absolutely takes your breath away.

In this film based on the play by Lillian Hellman, Bette Davis stands silently by as her husband, played by Herbert Marshall, dies slowly from a heart attack. The stairs are used quite readily and handily in this melodramatic film. The kind of thing they just don't make anymore.

The title says it all, I guess. A family melodrama based on William Inge's play and directed by Elia Kazan, about a man - played by Robert Preston - whose life falls apart after he loses his job.

THE HEIRESS based on Hernry James' story. I love this poster best though, obviously, it's not in English. We all know the scene at the end when Olivia DeHavilland climbs those stairs and turns her back on the foolish, money-grubbing Monty Clift who is left fussing on the front steps.

Lots of stairs in and around the palace of the Pharaoh played by a natty Jack Hawkins. Haven't seen this rip-roaring corker in ages, but I do remember stairs all over the place. Near the end, they lead down into the bowels of a newly built pyramid.

Those old antebellum mansions sure had some gorgeous staircases. How can we forget Scarlett in her curtain dress sauntering down the stairs. The argument with Butterfly McQueen about 'birthing babies' which takes place, if I'm remembering correctly, on the stairs. And of course, the major scene where Rhett carries a struggling Scarlet up that stairway to paradise. (Or so we are led to believe.)


My DEATH ON A STAIRCASE Book Covers post has given rise to a sequel. (Well, you knew that would happen - right?) A few films in which staircases play some important role, either as central window dressing, dramatic or romantic setting or murderous scene of the crime. I'm sure there are many more. Can you think of any I should have added?

(Thanks to Classic Becky for the idea to add films to the mix.)

'I'll Build A Stairway to Paradise' sung by Georges Guetary. A scene from AN AMERICAN IN PARIS. In a film filled with classic dance numbers, this one sometimes goes unappreciated. But I've always loved the absurd charm of it. Watch it here, it is guaranteed to make you smile.


  1. Terrified of heights. I once climbed a sand dune and could only come down backwards on my hands and knees. Quite a sight.

  2. Me too. I"ve had several embarrassing episodes in my lifetime. :)

  3. Me, too. It began at the age of 19, when our family went to Mexico to climb the pyramids in the Yucatan.

    My Dad was afraid coming down the very narrow, short steps (one had to hold chains to climb down), and so I learned that fear. And have had it since.

    And it's had an impact in all kinds of ways.

  4. However, on the other hand, I must see "High Anxiety" again. I saw it years ago, and I laugh at anything Mel Brooks does.

    There are many listed here to resee. A few I have not seen at all, so to the list they go.

  5. If you're afraid of heights, you probably don't want to click on this link, but the scenery is beautiful!

    Incidently, it is RHETT, not REX, who carries Scarlett up the stairs in Gone With The Wind. (It results in a pregnancy too!)

  6. THANK YOU, DEB! How did I miss that? Jeez! Oh well, I've just corrected it. (Color me embarrassed.)

    I'm not that afraid that I can't see or watch heights in films or shows. PBS used to have these delightful and thoroughly beautiful travel films shot from a helicopter. They'd travel over a specific city or country and just shoot the scenery from the air. My favorite travel films. Most especially LOVED the ones they did on Italy and France.

    I'll go check out your site link in a moment. :)

    Thanks again for spotting my error. (Gak!)

  7. Lots of good films, Kathy. THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE is an especially creepy one. But a terrific film. I always liked Dorothy McGuire. George Brent - not so much.

    The one with Orson Welles is a good noir-ish thriller with a great ending. (Although Loretta Young was always a bit of a feeb.)

  8. Love it, Yvette! You picked really great movies! Thanks for the shout-out to me. that was really nice. I thought of one other great film, mainly because I just did a series of the great classic gangster films -- James Cagney as ruthless Cody Jarrett climbing the spiral stairs to the top of a huge chemical tank, where he shoots into into it and shouts "Made it Ma, Top of the World" before it explodes!

  9. Ohh, good one, Becky! I love that ending.

    You're welcome, by the way. I always like to give credit where credit is due. Plus, you have a great blog. :)

  10. I remember "The Stranger," and some of others listed her, but will add those I haven't seen or else saw so long ago I don't remember them.

    And what's a movie binge, especially during the summer (when one feels awful from allergies), without a few repeats of old classics?

  11. To tell the truth, Kathy, a lot of my movie viewing is 'repeat' viewing. Just as I like to re-read old favorites, I like re-view my favorite movies all the time. :)

  12. Speaking of staircases, Yvette, have you ever noticed the key role that staircases play in the films of Alfred Hitchcock? The most well-known scene, of course, is in Psycho, with its fabulous (and strategic) bird's eye view shot of the killing of the detective, but it's far from the only one. There's the great scene in Notorious and noteworthy scenes in Blackmail, Frenzy, Vertigo (of course), and probably others. The 39 Steps, on the other hand, isn't about steps (but I can think of two staircases in that one as well.) Visually, I think Hitchcock liked the unsettled oblique angles of staircases.

    I'm glad to be reading your blog again (I've been gone for two weeks and barely able to post my own posts) and glad that your comments problem has been fixed.

  13. Weclome back, Robin. :)

    Now that you mention HItchcock, I forgot about the killing of the detective in PSYCHO. Maybe because it's just not a favorite film of mine. But how could I forget the staircase scene in NOTORIOUS???

    I agree with you about Hitchcock's liking of oblique angles.

    Wasn't there some staircase stuff in REAR WINDOW?

  14. I could not see Psycho. When I was 14, my cousin told me about the shower scene. I didn't even see it, and I didn't take a shower for a week! So, no, will not be seeing that.


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