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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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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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Did You Know?

Trivia

"Screen Director's Playhouse" broadcast a 30 minute radio adaptation of the movie on November 25, 1949 with Dorothy McGuire reprising her film role. See more »

Goofs

In the long conversation between the old lady and her son by the bed (half an hour into the film), he is seen from one angle to clutch her arm, and from another angle both her arms are free - alternately throughout the scene. 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 »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

 
Familiar, but highly atmospheric
2 May 2014 | by Leofwine_dracaSee all my reviews

THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE is one of the best known in the "old dark house" genre. These films typically feature a disparate group of characters who inevitably find themselves alone and trapped within a huge, rambling and spooky old house on the night of a storm, with a killer amongst them. What's notable about this outing is just how stylish it is: the story is nothing special, but the style makes it.

The story features a black-gloved killer (complete with POV shots) who hides in wardrobes and stalks his young, female victims and strangles them. In one of the movie's most infamous shots, the viewer sees a victim from the killer's point of view, and she's missing her mouth; symptomatic of his disturbed mind, and highly eerie with it. The whodunit aspect of the storyline is played up strongly, with some red herrings thrown into the mix, although it's pretty easy for a modern viewer to guess the identity of the murderer.

THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE features some decent performances, particularly from Dorothy McGuire, playing (unusually) a leading role as a mute. That the viewer becomes accustomed to her muteness and, eventually, even forgets about it is testament to her performance. Elsewhere in the cast, there's a barnstorming turn from grand old dame Ethel Barrymore who rules the roost from her deathbed, and a nicely comic performance from the BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN herself, Elsa Lanchester, as a drunk cook.

In the end, the film works because of the visual flourishes. As in a film noir, there's a lot of creeping about in the shadows, and silhouettes of various things and people play a big part. The emphasis on a deranged killer is a neat precursor to the later gialli and slasher films of the '70s and '80s, and there's little padding on the bare bones of the narrative. It's a good 'un.


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