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The Spiral Staircase (1946)

Approved | | Drama, Horror, Mystery | 7 February 1946 (USA)
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. Another 1 nomination. 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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Did You Know?

Trivia

Whilst 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

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

Remade as The Spiral Staircase (1961) 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 »

User Reviews

 
The Evilest Eye in Cinema History
31 December 2013 | by CoventrySee all my reviews

Being one of the last truly great thriller/mystery classics I still had lingering on my must-see list; I cherished big expectations for "The Spiral Staircase". Perhaps even a little TOO big… Don't get me wrong, it's a fantastic film and a bona fide genre masterpiece, but somehow I expected even more suspense and moodiness! Let me just get out of my system that certain sequences inside the old dark house were a bit tedious and overdone. But hey, who's complaining, since the full rest of the film is pure perfection in terms of beauty, elegance, atmosphere and scenery. It's rather intriguing how certain films, like "Freaks" or "Peeping Tom" to name just two, caused so much controversy and scandal while "The Spiral Staircase" is widely considered as an untouchable landmark even though it features similar prohibited themes like voyeurism and murder victims with a disability. The opening sequence is almost too brilliant for words. A medium sized crowed gathers in a small theater for a silent movie screening while, on the floor above them, a crippled girl prepares herself to go to sleep. The utmost evil glazing eye watches her from inside the wardrobe and strikes exactly when she lifts the gown over her head. You can't get any more expressionistic than that. After that, "The Spiral Staircase" establishes itself as the sheer archetype of old dark house thrillers. The beautiful but mute Helen is a social worker in the secluded mansion of the ailing Mrs. Warren. A heavy thunderstorm rages outside, Mrs. Warren son and stepson argue over their life styles (and the lovely secretary Blanche) and the rest of the household staff either turns to alcohol or complains about the stubborn matriarch. Both Mrs. Warren and her doctor urge Helen to leave town. Could it be the maniacal killer is inside the house? This film is a rarity. Even though it doesn't require an Einstein brain to figure out the killer's identity, you honestly don't care that much and remain glued to the screen to admire how the Gothic atmosphere unfolds further. Director Robert Siodmak – a German immigrant in America following WWII – truly masters the cinematography and Victorian set pieces. He also manages to include the thunderstorm as an extra – and essential – supportive character. Speaking of the cast, I dare you to name a so-called 'damsel in distress' more amiable than Dorothy McGuire's Helen. She's a vulnerable angel, targeted by a frustrated and obsessive madman on a mission to rid the world of imperfection. Especially the women impress in "The Spiral Staircase" as I simply must also mention Ethel Barrymore as Mrs. Warren (nominated for an Oscar, even) and Elsa "Bride of Frankenstein" Lanchester as the maid with a taste for brandy.


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Frequently Asked Questions

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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

7 February 1946 (USA) 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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