Turner Classic Movies has three terrific suspense films in a row Wednesday night, July 6. At 9 p.m. Pacific time check out Robert Siodmak's The Spiral Staircase (1946), a spine-tingler framed as a period piece—1906—and set principally in a moldering New England mansion. Dorothy McGuire is excellent as a servant girl, mute since childhood, who discovers she's likely to be the next prey of a serial killer. Ethel Barrymore and George Brent costar, with Elsa Lanchester doing a choice turn as a housekeeper. The screenwriter was Mel Dinelli, who would write the classic boy-who-cried-wolf grabber The Window several years later. Indispensable to the claustrophobic atmosphere is master noir cameraman Nick Musuraca (Cat People, Out of the Past). Siodmak was on a great noir streak in the mid- to late Forties: Phantom Lady, Uncle Harry, The Killers, Cry of the City ... and that's a partial list.
Gaslight is on at 10:30 p.m.—but not the Gaslight you're thinking of, with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. This time TCM is showing the 1940 British original, which MGM bought up and then suppressed for years. Anton Walbrook stars; Thorold Dickson directed.
But the film that inspired this post brings up the rear at midnight. Three Strangers (1946) is a dandy footnote to the career of John Huston, who cooked up the story in the late Thirties, turned it into a screenplay in the early Forties with Howard Koch, and figured to direct it as a spiritual sequel to his maiden directorial effort, The Maltese Falcon. That didn't happen, chiefly because World War II got in the way (Huston went AWOL from Hollywood to make wartime documentaries), and Warner Bros. passed the job on to Jean Negulesco. Negulesco had directed Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet in the 1944 The Mask of Dimitrios, and they comprise two-thirds of the titular contingent: three strangers—Geraldine Fitzgerald completes the combo—drawn together one foggy New Year's Eve in London to make a semi-facetious deal with Fate. The theme of strangers making temporary common cause while remaining essentially separate runs through Huston's major films, from the Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre to The Asphalt Jungle, Moby Dick, and Fat City. Still, Negulesco handled the assignment well, right up to the characteristic Huston twist under the end title.