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The Spiral Staircase (1945)

Approved | | Film-Noir, Horror, Mystery | December 1945 (USA)
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A serial killer (circa 1916) is targeting women with 'afflictions'; one night during a thunderstorm, mute Helen feels menaced.

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

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
Helen
...
...
...
...
Blanche
Gordon Oliver ...
...
...
Nurse Barker
...
Mr. Oates
James Bell ...
Constable
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Storyline

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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Details

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Release Date:

December 1945 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Silence of Helen McCord  »

Filming Locations:


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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

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 »

Goofs

After Blanche has her argument with Steven, she goes into Helen's room to talk to her. While Helen is packing her suitcase, she takes a picture frame off the nightstand and lays it on the bed twice. See more »

Quotes

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 »

Connections

References Rebecca (1940) See more »

Soundtracks

Waltz Op. 34 No. 2 in A minor
(uncredited)
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

 
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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