Actors, no matter how talented they are, can only stretch so far. In this adaptation of a fairly successful stage play, Burton and Harrison have been cast as two aging homosexuals; and despite the talents of both men, they are unconvincing. Harrison and Burton have been lovers for three
decades. They live above the barber shop where they work, and they use the "staircase" in the title to walk from their flat to their place of business. Burton is losing his hair and is so vain about it that he keeps his head swathed in a turban. Harrison, the more flamboyant of the two, is on edge
because he has been cited by the police for appearing in public in full drag. When the picture opens, he is anxious about his upcoming court appearance. The men are being snide and sharp with each other, and there seems to be extraordinary tension between the two, but it's soon established that
this is a normal part of the relationship. Harrison is the more acerbic of the men and sends darts into Burton's psyche with regularity. Once heterosexual, Harrison receives a letter from his ex-wife telling him that their daughter is coming to town to visit and asking that he spend a day with
her. To enable father and daughter to share a few hours together, Harrison asks whether Burton would mind taking his mother for a drive when the girl comes. Burton's mother, Nesbitt, an invalid who requires constant attention, lives with the men. Burton is livid at the suggestion because Nesbitt's
arthritis makes moving her extremely difficult. The summons to appear in court arrives. Harrison has no money to hire a barrister, so he asks Burton for a loan but is refused. He reluctantly decides to appeal to his aged mother, Lehmann, who resides in a nursing home. During the visit, before he
has a chance to ask for money, she begins berating his sexual proclivities, so he exits without asking her help. Later, Harrison returns home with Lewis, a gay he's met, and tries to seduce the young man. Burton, hurt by Harrison's perfidy, locks himself in the bathroom. When Harrison can't get
in, he breaks down the door and finds Burton unconscious. Fearing that his lover has attempted suicide, Harrison pleads with the comatose Burton never to leave him. When Burton awakens, he explains that the faint was not the result of an overdose of anything but of having his blood pressure rise
at the sight of Harrison with Lewis. Harrison is about to go to court for his case, when Burton appears, wearing a terrible black toupee to hide his baldness. Harrison pokes fun at the wig, but Burton pays no attention and steadfastly insists on accompanying Harrison to court for moral support.
Harrison is convinced that the sight of Burton in the wig could prejudice the court against him, and he walks out alone. On his way to court he realizes that, despite all the abuse he's heaped on Burton, and despite Burton's odd appearance, Harrison still loves him, needs him, and wants him to be
his partner forever. He calls for Burton to join him in court, and the two men walk down the street, happy in their 30-year love for each other.
The film has no real resolution--a problem that might have been solved had the actual trial been shown. There is also no actual physical demonstration of affection between the two men. It is almost as though the two are merely friends and roommates rather than lovers. This absence of
sensationalism works both for and against the picture--convincing us of the relationship's naturalness but not of its homosexual nature. The music was composed by Moore, but the single song, "Life's Staircase," is sung by Ray Charles. A downbeat, depressing movie that was opened up for the screen
by the author of the play, STAIRCASE was did not attract a great deal of attention in London because it was filmed in Paris. Burton had some tax problems and needed to be out of England for a while. He was then married to Elizabeth Taylor, and they couldn't bear to be apart, so she had Fox build a
Las Vegas set in Paris while she was making THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN with Warren Beatty. Nesbitt was stunning as Burton's mother and should have gotten at least an Oscar nomination, but the picture was such a bomb that her part in it was overlooked. Lehmann was also wonderful. In fact, the two women,
in brief appearances, stole what little thunder the film had. Producer-director Donen, who had specialized in gay musicals (in the old-fashioned sense of the word), seems to have let these two giants get out of hand at times.
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- Rating: R
- Review: Actors, no matter how talented they are, can only stretch so far. In this adaptation of a fairly successful stage play, Burton and Harrison have been cast as two aging homosexuals; and despite the talents of both men, they are unconvincing. Harrison and Bu… (more)