Panic Rooms: “Tread Softly Stranger” (1958)


Diana Dors as the temptress Calico, an entirely different breed of hot cat on a roof in the British crime drama “Tread Softly Stranger”.

          “Tread Softly Stranger”  (1958)

    When gambler Johnny  Mansell (George Baker) overextends his bookie debts, he flees London, returning to his working class hometown of  Rawborough to visit with his steel mill accountant brother Dave (Terence Morgan), who has embezzled from the company treadsoftlystrangerHSto buy expensive baubles for his  ersatz girlfriend, the oversexed bar hostess Calico (Diana Dors), who conveniently lives in an adjoining rooftop flat which will make the constant frantic exits and entrances demanded of the film’s increasingly fevered inclinations toward excited strategic arguments between the three (after Dave’s  attempt to rob the mill’s payroll to disguise his earlier theft goes sour, resulting in the shooting death of the night watchman, the father of a childhood friend) that make the film, at times, seem as if it intends to be a melancholy film noir version of a door slamming bedroom farce (this may also hint at the film’s stage origins). Complicating the growing stress between the threesome over the homicide (Johnny was spotted at the scene attempting to halt the robbery, while Calico supplied Dave with the murder weapon) is a sexual tension between Johnny (who feigns resistance) and the faithless Calico that adds further grist to Dave’s rapidly deteriorating grip on reality.

    Gordon Parry’s film impressively takes fairly routine material and cranks up the tension by manipulating subtle variations in editing tempo and through the use of ingeniously effective camerawork by Douglas Slocombe in which Dave’s consuming paranoiac panic is reflected in the film’s visual design. Interestingly, the movie is shot intreadsoftlystranger3 a relatively dispassionate workmanlike style until the robbery scene, in which the mise-en-scene shifts into a dark descent into chiaroscuro fueled images symbolic of a fall into an abyss of moral damnation. (The exceptions to the earlier unaffected visual design, are anything but subtle punctuations which make no mystery in identifying  Calico as an amoral succubus, who preys on the weakness of Dave’s clueless affections; she is often shot in provocatively come hither poses, with the film cutting to the steamy expulsions of the steel mill as if the entire town were in the throes of an orgasmic discharge generated by her overheated sexuality.) 

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About chandlerswainreviews

I've been a puppet, a pirate, a pauper, a poet, a pawn and a king, not necessarily in that order. My first major movie memory was being at the drive-in at about 1 1/2 yrs. old seeing "Sayonara" so I suppose an interest in film was inevitable. (For those scoring at home- good for you- I wasn't driving that evening, so no need to alert authorities.)Writer, critic and confessed spoiler of women, as I have a tendency to forget to put them back in the refrigerator. My apologies.
This entry was posted in British films, crime, film noir, movie reviews, Movies, Mystery, Reviews, Romance, theater, women, writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Panic Rooms: “Tread Softly Stranger” (1958)

  1. Another favorite of my husband’s.

  2. beetleypete says:

    Love this review, Chandler, and I loved that film, though I was young when I watched it, some years after release. I loved it for Diana Dors of course, as the story would have been superfluous for me, as long as I could watch her on screen. She was hot stuff for a young man to look at in those days, it has to be said. In fact, your well-chosen still proves that she still is..
    It also made me realise that I may not be as old as I thought! 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

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