7.5/10
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109 user 52 critic

The Spiral Staircase (1946)

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 | Plot 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

After Helen first fetches the ether from the bathroom cabinet, she leaves the bathroom without closing the cabinet door. No one goes back to do anything with it, and seconds later the cabinet door has closed itself. See more »

Quotes

Constable: She's dead!
Dr. Parry: Well, in that event, Constable, I certainly can't do her any harm.
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 »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

 
Classic Gothic Horror Story, Very Atmospheric.
31 January 2007 | by materlachrymarumSee 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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