105 user 45 critic

The Spiral Staircase (1945)

Approved | | Horror, Mystery, Thriller | December 1945 (USA)
2:00 | Trailer

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A serial killer (circa 1916) is targeting women with 'afflictions'; one night during a thunderstorm, 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?


"Screen Director's Playhouse" broadcast a 30 minute radio adaptation of the movie on November 25, 1949 with Dorothy McGuire reprising her film role. See more »


When Helen first walks up the main staircase, she pauses to look at herself in the mirror. In the next shot as the camera slowly rolls backwards, she is still looking in the "mirror" but there is no reflection of herself (just a painting designed to look like mirror). See more »


Dr. Parry: The only thing that keeps me from cracking you in the jaw is the almost certain possibility that it would break your neck.
See more »


Waltz Op. 34 No. 2 in A minor
Music by Frédéric Chopin
Played during the scene at the silent movie theater
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Atmospheric old dark house thriller...quiet but deadly...
16 April 2001 | by (U.S.A.) – See all my reviews

For sheer mastery in the art of black and white photography and its ability to provide the shadowy atmosphere necessary for mood, they don't come any better than this. The house alone is as much a part of the plot as the actors--but everything clicks...the acting, the script, the story, the direction and the brooding atmosphere that lets you know you're in for an intense and absorbingly suspenseful story. All of the suspense is relieved occasionally with just the right amount of humor. Particularly by Elsa Lanchester as the housekeeper who uses trickery to steal an extra bottle of liquor from the wine cellar. While thunder and lightning storms outside the mansion, we know that a serial killer is lurking on or near the premises, one who specializes in murdering women with physical afflictions. At the center of the story is Dorothy McGuire's character, a mute girl who lost her voice years ago during a traumatic experience. Around her are a number of people, all of whom become suspicious as the plot thickens--Kent Smith, Rhonda Fleming, George Brent, Ethel Barrymore and Gordon Oliver. Ethel Barrymore is especially good as a frightened old woman, bedridden and suspicious enough of everyone. For comparison, view the recent color TV adaptation, bland in overall effect. It will make you appreciate this black and white classic more than ever. As with most remakes, it doesn't stand a chance against the original.

My only complaint is that DOROTHY McGUIRE does not have much range in her expressions. Wide-eyed, but seldom wild, her restraint limits the amount of fear her character can express without using her voice. A more over-the-top performance might have been more useful, given the Gothic mood created so well by director Robert Siodmak. She is overshadowed by Ethel Barrymore as a bed-ridden invalid urging her to leave the house and Gordon Oliver, as the playboy step-brother who plays his role to the hilt. GEORGE BRENT does nicely for the most part, but seems too laid back in the final scenes to be as menacing as he is meant to be.

Still, well worth watching for its shadowy Victorian atmosphere alone.

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