The Spiral Staircase
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A murderer is targeting disabled young women in a sleepy New England town, and Helen (Dorothy McGuire), a mute servant in a Gothic mansion, is terrified she's next! Mrs. Warren (legendary actress Ethel Barrymore in an Oscar®-nominated* performance [Best Supporting Actress, 1946]), the invalid, bullying mistress of the house, warns Helen to leave at once, rather than rely on her weak son and stepson for protection. But even as Helen is packing her things, she suspects she may be too late and the murderer is closer than she ever imagined!
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The suspense builds as the stormy night progresses. A murder occurs, and one by one the members of the household are gotten out of the way, until Helen is left alone. The shocking denouement occurs unexpectedly.
This is a suspense story with decidedly Hitchcockian touches. Robert Siodmak masterfully directs the well-written script. The cast is uniformly fine, with standout performance by Barrymore and Elsa Lanchester as a bad-tempered housekeeper. But the movie belongs to McGuire, one of the most underrated actors of the 1940's and 50's. Without being able to say a word, she is able to communicate the rising fright she feels, using only her face and actions.
The set design and beautiful black-and-white cinematography add to the atmosphere of terror surrounding the isolated house.
A true classic of the suspense field, this is an exciting film keeps the viewer on his toes from beginning to end. A must see for any fan of mystery and suspense!
WARNING: Do not buy the color version with Jacqueline Bisset--same title but NOT A FILM NOIR!!! One of the worst remakes I have ever seen!
That was back in the 59’s. I always looked forward to watching movies with my Mother and Sister’s. When I saw this movie the first time it scared me, and I totally was surprised at who the Killer was. Always worth the time to watch it. Glad Amazon has it for sale.
This is the one that set the template for all horror movies that followed; the original from which all others flowed. The spooky music, which, in it's time, was as groundbreaking as the theme from Jaws. The classic 3 notes sent chills down my spine, and when I first saw this movie I was 7 years old and it really did scare the hell out of me. I watched it with my father and he loved it too; we had a Million Dollar Movie that played 5 nights for one week and we watched it every night.
Ethel Barrymore is, as always, superb and lends the perfect touch to this spooky, suspenseful movie. George Brent is wonderful as the smooth soft-spoken professor, the head of the house, and the caretaker of the family. Dorothy McGuire conveys tremendous emotion given her muted state; she has, throughout most of the movie, not one word of dialogue but a world of emotions and you can tell what she's thinking and feeling.
The setting is a New England town, circa 1890, and the house is a huge Victorian, very luxurious and beautifully furnished. The opening scene shows a group of people in a room in a hotel breathlessly watching "The Kiss", which was groundbreaking in it's time, because it showed the first kiss ever put on film and was quite shocking back then. The music for "The Kiss" consists of a woman playing the piano according to whatever mood is onscreen, and is perfect for the score for SS also.
There is a serial killer on the loose; preying on women with handicaps/afflictions, which puts Dorothy McGuire, as Helen, in a very precarious situation and it is her safety we are concerned with. The house is populated with a disparate group, and one by one each is somehow removed in varying circumstances, leaving Helen vulnerable to an attack. To enhance the mood, there is a violent thunderstorm throughout the movie, and the lightning flashes occasionally reveal hidden dangers outside and inside (!) the house.
So, for an appreciation of truly excellent moviemaking, (and "thrills and chills")see this gem, it is as scary today as it was in it's film debut back in 1946...