7.4/10
8,189
110 user 58 critic

The Spiral Staircase (1945)

Approved | | Drama, Mystery, Thriller | 31 May 1946 (Argentina)
In 1916, a shadowy serial killer is targeting women with "afflictions"; one night during a thunderstorm, the mute Helen feels menaced.

Director:

Robert Siodmak

Writers:

Mel Dinelli (screenplay), Ethel Lina White (novel)
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Nominated for 1 Oscar. See more awards »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Dorothy McGuire ... Helen
George Brent ... Professor Warren
Ethel Barrymore ... Mrs. Warren
Kent Smith ... Dr. Parry
Rhonda Fleming ... Blanche
Gordon Oliver ... Steve Warren
Elsa Lanchester ... Mrs. Oates
Sara Allgood ... Nurse Barker
Rhys Williams ... 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 | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

Conflicts that freeze your emotions! Suspense that takes your breath!


Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

31 May 1946 (Argentina) See more »

Also Known As:

Silence of Helen McCord See more »

Filming Locations:

Detroit, Michigan, USA

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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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: [fires her gun] Murderer, you killed them. You killed them all.
See more »

Connections

Featured in Histoire(s) du cinéma: Les signes parmi nous (1999) 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

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User Reviews

 
Atmospheric old dark house thriller...quiet but deadly...
16 April 2001 | by DoylenfSee 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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