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The Spiral Staircase (1945)

7.6
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Ratings: 7.6/10 from 5,752 users  
Reviews: 100 user | 39 critic

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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Title: The Spiral Staircase (1945)

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
George Brent ...
...
Mrs. Warren
Kent Smith ...
...
Blanche
Gordon Oliver ...
Steve Warren
...
...
Nurse Barker
...
Mr. Oates
James Bell ...
Constable
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Storyline

Beautiful young mute Helen is a domestic worker for old ailing Mrs. Warren. Mrs. Warren's two 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

Genres:

Mystery | Thriller

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

December 1945 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Silence of Helen McCord  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »
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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 crippled, 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

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 »

Quotes

Mrs. Warren: [fires her gun] Murderer, you killed them. You killed them all.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Society (1989) 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
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

 
Classic Gothic Horror Story, Very Atmospheric.
31 January 2007 | by (Portland, Oregon, USA) – See all my reviews

I caught "The Spiral Staircase" on the Turner Classic Movies Channel (yes, surprisingly enough, I do watch that channel), and I had heard about this film before and decided to see what it was all about. I'm glad that I did, because it was a very rewarding experience. This film centers around Helen (Dorothy McGuire), a mute house-maid who works for an eccentric woman, Mrs. Warren (Ethel Barrymore), who lives in an old New England mansion with her two grown sons in the early 1900s. In the area where Mrs. Warren lives, a serial killer has begun targeting women with "afflictions", or disabilities, strangling them all to death. Helen begins to fear that the killer may target her, and her fears become a reality one stormy night as the murderer stalks her within Mrs. Warren's darkened mansion, waiting to strike.

I've always enjoyed older black and white movies, and I think it's important to take a look at early cinema to compare it with what modern cinema has evolved to, so I had some sufficient interest in this film. I also love Gothic stories similar to this - so this film was the perfect type for me. The story is apparently a hybrid of two novels that were fused together and made up the plot line for this film, and the story in and of itself is very creepy and very unique. This is a heavily Gothic film, it's up to the brim with about every Gothic element that you can think of - it's a classic horror story, and I loved that about it. Some splendidly chilling sequences (among them being the very eerie scenes where Helen is spied on by the serial killer in the house) and very eerie moments add to the overall foreboding atmosphere that this film gives off.

Atmosphere is also very heavy in this film, and many of the story's elements make it so strong. The dark mansion is an eerie and classic setting for a horror story of this type, and the backdrop is used quite effectively. The house is lit only by candlelight, and there are shadows bouncing off the walls everywhere the characters go. The cast is very good and all of the performances were well-done. Dorothy McGuire plays the silent heroine excellently, and the professor and his mother are also both played very well. Most of the cast aren't extremely well-known, besides the legendary Elsa Lanchester (who played the infamous role of the monster's mate in "Bride of Frankenstein), but that really doesn't matter much because they all are quite good in their roles. The film's conclusion is satisfying and the film keeps you guessing up until the final revelation, which was a great way to conclude the spooky little story.

All in all, "The Spiral Staircase" is a classic Gothic horror story. It won't scare today's audiences and most modern movie-goers will find little interest here, but if you give it a chance, it is quite an excellent little thriller (especially for it's time), and it has plenty to offer. Wonderful horror classic, I'm surprised that there aren't more people aware of this film. 9/10.


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