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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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Approved | See all certifications »

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Details

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Release Date:

December 1945 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Silence of Helen McCord  »

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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

Joan Crawford, after receiving critical praise for her performance in A Woman's Face (1941), at one point campaigned for the role of the mute girl played by Dorothy McGuire. Crawford also owned the rights, but MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer vehemently opposed the idea, telling her "No more cripples or maimed women". See more »

Goofs

The silent film showing at the Village Hotel is extremely scratched and flickery. This is as the print would be in 1945, but at the time the film is set it should be rather cleaner and less damaged. 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.
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Connections

Referenced in Black Christmas (1974) 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

 
A Gothic, Noirish, Hitchcockian Masterpiece.
19 January 2011 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Helen Capel was rendered mute in childhood due to a family trauma, now she acts as a companion to the bed ridden Mrs Warren. She's currently fretful because a serial killer is on the loose and he preys on women with afflictions...

Based on Ethel White's novel "Some Must Watch," The Spiral Staircase harks back to the days of the "old dark house" thrillers and encompasses a German expressionist sheen. The setting is an old Gothic mansion in New England at the turn of the century. Directed by Robert Siodmak, not one spooky house thriller genre convention has been neglected here. The tension builds amid creaking doors and gates, whistling winds, flickering candles, blowing curtains and cut-aways to the eyes of the unseen lurking madman waiting to add poor Helen to his roll call of victims. Mirrors, windows and shadows feature prominently as craftsman Siodmak spins his uneasy expressionistic web.

The cast are uniformly strong. Dorothy McGuire gives one of her best and most convincing performances as the under threat Helen. While Ethel Barrymore (nominated for Best Supporting Actress), Elsa Lanchester and George Brent all turn in brilliant performances. But perhaps it's not unfair to say that the real stars here are the technical staff? Siodmak expands his talent and knowing from his work at Universal Pictures (Son Of Dracula/The Suspect), Albert D'Agostino's sets are wondrous period delights and Nicholas Musuraca's deep-focus photography has the ability to make one keep looking over the shoulder to see if something is lurking in the room with us...

There's quite a few changes in this adaptation from the novel, notably the setting was in England and Helen was a cripple and not mute. But few could seriously argue that The Spiral Staircase in silver screen form is anything but a triumphant piece of classic cinema. 10/10


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