The Dark at the Top of the Stairs

Watch The Dark at the Top of the Stairs

"Everytime a woman turns her face away because she's tired or unwilling - there's someone waiting like me!"
  • Approved
  • 1960
  • 2 hr 4 min
  • 7.2  (819)

The Dark at the Top of the Stairs is a 1960 drama film directed by Delbert Mann and adapted from a play by William Inge. Set in early 20th century Oklahoma, the film tells the story of the Flood family, led by patriarch Rubin (Robert Preston), a traveling salesman struggling to make ends meet. Rubin's wife Cora (Dorothy McGuire) is a timid and increasingly unhappy housewife who longs for the affection and attention of her husband. Their two children, son Sonny (Ken Howard) and daughter Reenie (Shirley Knight), deal with their own personal struggles as they navigate adolescence in a changing world.

The film is a powerful exploration of family dynamics, marriage, and societal expectations. Rubin and Cora's marriage is strained, with Rubin's constant absence and disregard for Cora's needs leading her to consider an affair with the local shopkeeper, Lottie (Eve Arden). Meanwhile, Sonny struggles with his own burgeoning sexuality and the pressure to conform to traditional gender roles, while Reenie grapples with the social stigma of being a teenager with a reputation for being "fast." As the Flood family faces their individual demons, they must learn to come together and support each other in order to survive.

One of the most striking aspects of the film is the way it addresses issues of gender, sexuality, and identity in a time and place where such discussions were largely taboo. The character of Sonny, in particular, is a groundbreaking representation of a young man struggling with his own desires and the pressure to conform to a heteronormative society. Ken Howard's electrifying performance brings Sonny's inner turmoil to life in a way that is both heartbreaking and revolutionary. Shirley Knight is also excellent as Reenie, conveying both the vulnerability and resilience of a young woman in a patriarchal world.

The film's themes are further emphasized by the bleak, desolate landscape of Oklahoma, which serves as a metaphor for the characters' isolation and sense of entrapment. Mann's direction is understated but effective, allowing the talent of the cast to shine through. The film is also notable for its portrayal of strong, complex female characters, particularly Cora and Lottie, who both defy traditional gender expectations in their own way.

Despite its heavy subject matter, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs is not without moments of levity and tenderness. The chemistry between Preston and McGuire is palpable, and the film's tender moments are balanced by moments of sharp wit and humor. The film's final act is particularly moving, as the family comes to a new understanding and finds a way to move forward in the face of the challenges that lie ahead.

In conclusion, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs is a landmark film that explores complex themes with grace and nuance. Its powerful performances and enduring relevance make it a must-see for fans of character-driven drama and social commentary.

The Dark at the Top of the Stairs
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  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    2 hr 4 min
  • Language
  • IMDB Rating
    7.2  (819)