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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Staircase (1969) Richard Burton, Rex Harrison ~ gay ground breaking film

Staircase is a 1969 film adaptation of a two-character play, also called Staircase, by Charles Dyer. The film, like the play, is about an aging gay couple who own a barber shop in the East End of London. One of them is a part-time actor about to go on trial for propositioning a police officer. The action takes place over the course of one night as they discuss their loving but often volatile past together and possible future without each other.

The two main characters are named Charles Dyer (the name of the playwright/screenwriter) and Harry C. Leeds, which is an anagram of his name.

The screenplay was written by Dyer, and the film was directed by Stanley Donen. Dyer "opened up" the script to show the couple's neighborhood, expanded the action to cover a period of ten days, and added characters. Rex Harrison and Richard Burton portrayed the couple and Cathleen Nesbitt and Beatrix Lehmann were featured as their mothers. The film was produced by 20th Century Fox.

Because of Great Britain's tax laws, the stars insisted that the film be shot in Paris, which added to the film's budget, already inflated by their salaries ($1 million for Harrison, $1.25 million for Burton). Reportedly Elizabeth Taylor was shooting 1970's The Only Game in Town at the same time as this film was in production. While that film is set in Las Vegas, Taylor demanded that director George Stevens shoot in France so she could be close to her husband. This caused the budget of The Only Game in Town to grow higher than most large-scale, high-profile films that Fox was producing at the time.

The film's score was composed by musician/comedian Dudley Moore.

The film was rated R by the MPAA. Instead of marketing it as the comedy-drama it was, the studio treated it like a camp comedy. It was panned by most critics, including Roger Ebert, who gave it one star in his review and called it "an unpleasant exercise in bad taste . . . [Donen] gives us no warmth, humor or even the dregs of understanding. He exploits the improbable team of Rex Harrison & Richard Burton as a sideshow attraction.

Rarely seen on television, the film was broadcast by Turner Classic Movies during its June 2007 tribute to gay cinema. Noting this broadcast, a month later film critic Armond White called the film "a rare Hollywood movie to depict gay experience with wisdom, humor and warmth", and "a lost treasure".

Starring Rex Harrison & Richard Burton
Directed & Produced by Stanley Donen
Written by Charles Dyer
Music by Dudley Moore
Running time: 96 min

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Check out --

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