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The Spiral Staircase (1945)

Approved  |   |  Film-Noir, Mystery, Thriller  |  December 1945 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.6/10 from 6,225 users  
Reviews: 101 user | 42 critic

A serial killer (circa 1916) is targeting women with 'afflictions'; one night during a thunderstorm, mute Helen feels menaced.



(screenplay), (novel)
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Title: The Spiral Staircase (1945)

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Nominated for 1 Oscar. See more awards »



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


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 <>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


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Parents Guide:





Release Date:

December 1945 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Silence of Helen McCord  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

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 »


SPOILER:Mrs. Warren is presented as bedridden yet, when Helen is searching for the gun she checks the entire room - though this may suggest that she already knows her employer is not such an invalid as she makes out. See more »


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


Referenced in The Black Stallion (1979) 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

Silent Terror
3 February 2005 | by (Brooklyn NY USA) – See all my reviews

(Slight Spoilers} Effective turn of the century thriller set in New England about a killer on the loose murdering young women in the community who have imperfections in their mental or physical abilities. It's as if this murderer, like mimicking the actions a wolf pack, is attempting to cull out the sick and the weak reindeer or caribou to keep the rest of the herd strong and healthy for future breeding.

After murdering three unfortunate young women the murderer zeros in on young Helen Capel, Dorothy McGuire, a mute young women who works as a maid for the old and bed-ridden Mrs.Warren, Ethel Barrymore, at her estate outside of town.You begin to realize that the killer is in a way imperfect himself and by trying to eliminate those he deems imperfect is making up for his own imperfections.

Dorothy McGurie in one of her best roles as the mute and pretty Helen is stalked all through the movie by the killer in the shadows of the Warren Mansion and in the woods around it. There's a really scary scene early in the movie when the killer in the pouring rain follows Helen through the woods at night as she momentarily drops her key to the Warren home only to back off at the last minute when someone else unexpectedly arrives.

Ethal Barrymore is also very effective as the sick and bed-ridden Mrs. Warren who has some idea who the killer is and wants Helen to leave the house as soon as possible in order not to end up being his next victim. Both George Brent and Gordon Oliver are fine as the two step-brothers and sons of Mrs Warren in their roles as the serious Prof.Warren and his globe-trotting and fun-loving brother Steve. Who have very deep and troubling insecurities about themselves due to their late authoritative father's high standards that he set for them that they both couldn't live up too.

There's also Kent Smith as Dr. Parry who knows the real reason for Helen's loss of speech, she tragically saw her parents die in a house fire at a very young age. Dr. Perry wants to help Helen get her voice back by having her see a vocal specialist that he knows in Boston. It turned out at the end of the movie that it was shock therapy that did the trick.

Spine-tingling final when the killer comes out of the shadows and closes in on the terrified Helen for the kill chasing her up the spiral staircase of the Warren house. It's then the killer finds out only too late that he, not Helen, has gotten himself trapped in the cross-hairs of a deadly ambush.

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