Mute witness: Dorothy McGuire in The Spiral Staircase


The Spiral Staircase (PG) 83 mins ** *t

’Too many trees stretch out their branches, knock the window, try to get in,‘ says bed-ridden Mrs Warren (Ethel Barrymore), establishing the gothic tone of Robert Siodmak's thriller from 1945. Her house and its menacing shadows conceal the identity of a killer who has been murdering the town's disabled young women one scarred, one ’simple-minded', one lame and now the mute Helen (Dorothy McGuire), Mrs Warren's paid companion, is likely to become the latest Victim.

The murder mystery aspect of The Spiral Staircase is actually less important than the sustained

atmOSphere and the visual means by which the twists of the killer’s mind are represented on screen. Siodmak closes in on a dark, demented eye before each attack, then distorts the image for a killer's pornt-of-VIew at one key moment, we see Helen’s face blurred to the extent that her mouth has been erased.

This psychological aspect »- a deadly force cancelling out imperfections in the female sex lifts the film to another level, but it can certainly be enjoyed as a creepy thriller in its own right. There have been countless films since about serial killers operating within a pattern, but few so effectively scratch surface respectability to uncover the shadows and secrets beneath. (Alan Morrison)

I Edinburgh Filmhouse from Fri l—Mon 4 Aug.

French impression: lean-Philippe Ecoffey and Helena Bonham Carter

Portraits Chinois (15) 116 mins stir it

Writer-director Martine Dugowson's follow-up to the rather marvellous Mina Tannenbaum is a more ambitious affair. It paints a broad canvas of thirtysomething ParISIan life and romance as it charts the relationships, rivalries, half-truths and mm passions skittering about between an extended group of pals straddling the film and fashion businesses.

Helena Bonham Carter (in not unimpressive French) gets the nominal lead as a couture aSSistant going through a double-crisis at work and at home With screenwriter boyfriend Jean-Philippe Ecoffey though it has to be said that her fidgety, all-too- apprOXimate performance IS the

in Portraits Cninois

weakest in a film where the rest of the cast seem to be trying to outdo each other in their available screen time Writing in nine major characters could be a liability, were it not for the deliCious efforts Of neurotic shopaholic

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Elsa Zylberstein; her Mina Tannenbaum

co—star Romaine Bohringer’s brilliantly economic way With the most intense emotion; and New Wave veteran Jean- Claude Brialy's touchineg melancholic deSigner.

It doesn’t absolutely form a compelling whole, but Dugowson’s insight into her lovers and liars remains wise and humane, her bravura technique mapping inner lives wrth an assurance that wrll continue to mature. (Trevor Johnston)

I Edinburgh Cameo from Fri 25 lul, Glasgow Film Theatre from Fri 22 Aug

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2‘3 Jul~iy Aug WW THELIST 59