Prissy, brow-beaten and “motherly” Harry Leeds (Richard Burton) has run a Brixton barbershop with his preening, mincing, bitching partner Charlie Dyer (Rex Harrison) for 30 years.
Despite having the odd limp-wristed dance around the chairs, the pair don’t have a very nice time, partly because Charlie is due up in court on a morals charge, and it’s making him fractious, but mostly because Harry’s shrewish grouching old hag-bag mother (Cathleen Nesbitt) lives upstairs being depressingly sick, waiting to die, and sniping at him every chance she gets.
Like all veterans of 30 years of togetherness, Charlie and Harry know exactly where to aim the blows to do the most psychological damage to their partner. They bicker constantly and occasionally land a punch below the belt.
Harry is tormented by the outward signs of ageing and has recently been afflicted with alopecia. Too proud to wear a wig, he covers his bald head with a turban.
Failed actor Charlie is awaiting his day in court where he must face a charge of transvestism for giving an impromptu demonstration of a female impersonation he did years before in vaudeville. He also awaits with great trepidation the arrival of Cassie, the daughter that resulted from his brief marriage.
Staircase is more than a story of two homosexuals. It’s the universal story of the need to be needed and of the difficulty most people have in admitting their need for others.
The film was based on a successful play by Charles Dyer, who also wrote the screenplay.