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The Spiral Staircase (1946)

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

The close-ups of the killer's eyes and hands actually show those of director Robert Siodmak. See more »

Goofs

When Helen lights the candle in a candle holder in the kitchen, she holds it on the bottom with her left hand, blocking the breeze with her right hand. The next shot is of her leaving the kitchen, still blocking with her right hand, but now holding the candlestick near the top of the holder instead of the bottom. She starts down the spiral staircase and as she rounds the first turn, she's once again holding the candle holder on the bottom. See more »

Quotes

Mrs. Warren: [fires her gun] Murderer, you killed them. You killed them all.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in End Roll (2012) 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

 
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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