The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1960)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Melodrama  |   Run Time - 123 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Craig Butler

Although generally derided today, for about a decade William Inge was one of the hottest playwrights in America. The Dark at the Top of the Stairs was the last of Inge's four major dramas to make the transition to the screen, and despite the datedness and sometimes obvious mechanics that pervade the playwright's work, it is still a powerful and moving experience. Modern audiences may find the symbolism too obvious and may feel cheated by a tacked-on happy end, but they will also be pleasantly surprised at the powerful change-of-pace performance from Robert Preston. Preston is in top form here, creating a believable and touching portrait of a man in crisis, albeit one who doesn't understand that the real crisis lies in his inability to communicate openly and honestly. Angela Lansbury, getting the chance to play a sympathetic character, also turns in fine work, and Dorothy McGuire provides the proper mixture of neediness and love to make her character real. Delbert Mann has directed with his usual careful attention to wringing optimum meaning from the simplest of moments, although he occasionally goes a bit too far in this direction. Inge, who did not write the screenplays for this or previous adaptations of his work, would emerge as an Oscar-winning scenarist the next year for his Splendor in the Grass.