Saturday, July 9, 2011

Action in Arabia vs. Notorious

The staircase in the Sebastian house in Notorious (1946)

Action in Arabia was a mildly interesting but not particularly great movie in which George Sanders plays an American journalist who discovers a nefarious Nazi plot in Syria to get the local desert tribes to support the Nazis. What I found more interesting took place about 15 minutes into the movie. Sanders is staying at one of the finest hotels in Damascus, and he steps out of his room and sees his boss talking to somebody in the lobby. The thing is, he's looking down from what is a sort of balcony, with a railing reminiscent of old carved columns; the staircase down to the lobby is a curved staircase, but not a complete spiral. My first thought was that this looked a lot like the staircase that Alfred Hitchcock used in the movie Notorious. Having blogged about Notorious, I knew I had a picture of that wonderful staircase, which you can see above. (Both movies were made at RKO.) The railing columns in the top left look very similar to the ones in Action in Arabia, while the wall on the right and the curvature of the staircase look the same. The one thing I noticed was different was that the hotel lobby didn't have that lovely checkerboard floor that the Sebastian house did.

Now, it shouldn't be surprising that set pieces get recycled. Making movies isn't cheap, and the studios were churning out dozens. It makes perfect sense that certain set pieces will get used over and over again. In the Tyrone Power version of The Black Swan, the Government House in Jamaica has a lovely round window that looks suspicously similar to the window of the courthouse during the trial in Leave Her to Heaven; both movies having been made at Fox, one can presume they are in fact the exact same window. There are also a lot of slanty wall-length windows in garret apartments that always make me wonder whether they're the same one I've seen in another movie, but those seem to show up in movies made at a bunch of different studios.

The thing that I found even more interesting, though, was the soft piece of music playing in the background when we first see George Sanders and that staircase. It was a waltz of some sort, and it sounded a lot like one of the waltzes that gets played at the party in the Sebastian house in Notorious, the party where Ingrid Bergman takes Cary Grant down to the wine cellar. Roy Webb wrote the score for both movies, so I wouldn't be surprised if the same piece of music got used.

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