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The Spiral Staircase (1945)

Approved | | Crime, Drama, Horror | December 1945 (USA)
2:00 | Trailer

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In 1916, a shadowy serial killer is targeting women with "afflictions"; one night during a thunderstorm, the mute Helen feels menaced.



(screenplay), (novel)
Nominated for 1 Oscar. See more awards »



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Complete credited cast:
Nurse Barker
Mr. Oates


In 1916, beautiful young mute Helen is a domestic worker for elderly, ailing Mrs. Warren. Mrs. Warren's two adult sons, Albert (a professor) and womanizing impudent Steven, also live in the Warren mansion. Mrs. Warren becomes concerned for Helen's safety when a rash of murders involving 'women with afflictions' hits the neighborhood. She implores her physician, Dr. Parry, to take Helen away for her own safety. When another murder occurs inside the Warren mansion, it becomes obvious that Helen is in danger. Written by Gary Jackson <garyjack5@cogeco.ca>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


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Parents Guide:





Release Date:

December 1945 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Silence of Helen McCord  »

Filming Locations:

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


While this film was based on Ethel Lina White's 1933 novel "Some Must Watch," there are several major differences. In the novel, the maid stalked by the killer was not mute. It was also set in contemporary England, not early 1900's New England. Finally, the title of the film and the idea of incorporating a "spiral staircase" as a thematic element comes from another source entirely: Mary Roberts Rinehart's 1908 novel "The Circular Staircase." The heroine of the book was not mute or crippled, nor were any of the murderer's victims. See more »


In the long conversation between the old lady and her son by the bed (half an hour into the film) he is seen from one angel to clutch her arm, and from another angel her both arms are free - alternately throughout the scene. See more »


Mrs. Warren: Forgive me, Steven, I thought it was you. He always waited until you came home, so I thought it was you.
See more »


Features The Sands of Dee (1912) See more »


Waltz Op. 34 No. 2 in A minor
Music by Frédéric Chopin
Played during the scene at the silent movie theater
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

A lesson in atmosphere
6 September 2004 | by (Beverley Hills, England) – See all my reviews

The Spiral Staircase is one of the most eerie and atmospheric films that I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. The entire movie gives off a sense of malice throughout, and the use of music here is some of the best I've ever seen in a movie. The film's plot follows a series of murders, of which all the victims are people with imperfections. Our hero is Helen; a young mute girl that works as a nurse for Mrs Warren, an old lady that lives in a big house. Aside from the old lady, also living in the house are her two sons; Albert and Steven, along with a few other people such as the maid. As the murders are being committed on imperfect women, the old lady becomes concerned for her mute nurse and begs her to leave. When another murder is committed in the house, the danger that the young girl is in becomes more apparent.

The first thing you will notice about this hidden gem is it's striking cinematography and lush settings. The film is very Gothic, and that gives it a very foreboding atmosphere. This is without doubt the best things about the film; in a dark thriller such as this, the atmosphere is always important, and as I said; this film has plenty. The film also features a lot of intrigue. As it has many characters that could be suspects, it leaves you guessing. Playing it's cards very close to it's chest, we don't find out who is the murderer until the very last minute.

The cast of The Spiral Staircase don't excel individually, but they come together very well as an ensemble. Most of them would never make another notable movie, although the majority have rather large filmographies. Robert Siodmak takes the directors chair, and he should be commended for his work. His use of the camera is excellent; the film features numerous close-ups, and when coupled with the haunting music; it makes for a great eeriness. There is one sequence in particular where the killer is watching his would-be victim from some bushes in the rain, and that with the haunting music in the background is altogether one of the most frightening sequences ever filmed. Cinematic perfection.

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