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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

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

Features The Kiss (1914) 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

 
A lesson in atmosphere
6 September 2004 | by The_VoidSee all my reviews

The Spiral Staircase is one of the most eerie and atmospheric films that I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. The entire movie gives off a sense of malice throughout, and the use of music here is some of the best I've ever seen in a movie. The film's plot follows a series of murders, of which all the victims are people with imperfections. Our hero is Helen; a young mute girl that works as a nurse for Mrs Warren, an old lady that lives in a big house. Aside from the old lady, also living in the house are her two sons; Albert and Steven, along with a few other people such as the maid. As the murders are being committed on imperfect women, the old lady becomes concerned for her mute nurse and begs her to leave. When another murder is committed in the house, the danger that the young girl is in becomes more apparent.

The first thing you will notice about this hidden gem is it's striking cinematography and lush settings. The film is very Gothic, and that gives it a very foreboding atmosphere. This is without doubt the best things about the film; in a dark thriller such as this, the atmosphere is always important, and as I said; this film has plenty. The film also features a lot of intrigue. As it has many characters that could be suspects, it leaves you guessing. Playing it's cards very close to it's chest, we don't find out who is the murderer until the very last minute.

The cast of The Spiral Staircase don't excel individually, but they come together very well as an ensemble. Most of them would never make another notable movie, although the majority have rather large filmographies. Robert Siodmak takes the directors chair, and he should be commended for his work. His use of the camera is excellent; the film features numerous close-ups, and when coupled with the haunting music; it makes for a great eeriness. There is one sequence in particular where the killer is watching his would-be victim from some bushes in the rain, and that with the haunting music in the background is altogether one of the most frightening sequences ever filmed. Cinematic perfection.


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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
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