The Spiral Staircase

  • 1946
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Thriller

The setting in this suspense-filled film is an old, dark Gothic mansion located in New England at the turn of the century. Young innocent Helen Capel (McGuire), long ago made mute due to a childhood trauma, is a servant for Mrs. Warren (Barrymore), a cantankerous, widowed invalid. The wealthy widow has two sons: one (Oliver), a hell-raiser, and the other...read more

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The setting in this suspense-filled film is an old, dark Gothic mansion located in New England at the turn of the century. Young innocent Helen Capel (McGuire), long ago made mute due to a childhood trauma, is a servant for Mrs. Warren (Barrymore), a cantankerous, widowed invalid. The

wealthy widow has two sons: one (Oliver), a hell-raiser, and the other (Brent), a gentle professor for whom Helen carries a secret torch. When three local girls--all physically handicapped--are murdered, everyone worries that Helen will be next. The tension builds as her suspicion of the killer's

identity proves wrong and she is forced to confront the real madman.

Dorothy McGuire, one of the finest actresses of her day, gives a touching and totally convincing pantomime performance as the victimized mute in this prototype old-dark-house thriller. Not one thriller convention has been neglected in a picture that is virtually guaranteed to suffuse audiences

with gooseflesh: creaking doors, wind-gusted curtains, flickering candles, cutaways to the menacing eyes of the unseen, unknown murdering maniac, every element of terror is in place. Director Robert Siodmak, a gifted craftsman noted for his expressionistic style, had made a number of atmospheric

suspense films for Universal before joining with producer Dory Schary and RKO for this one. Ethel Barrymore, Elsa Lanchester, and George Brent all turn in brilliant performances. Author White's novel was substantially modified for the film; in the book, the menaced serving girl had been a cripple

rather than a mute, and the setting was contemporary England. Dismally remade in Britain in 1975 under the direction of Peter Collinson.

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  • Rating: NR
  • Review: The setting in this suspense-filled film is an old, dark Gothic mansion located in New England at the turn of the century. Young innocent Helen Capel (McGuire), long ago made mute due to a childhood trauma, is a servant for Mrs. Warren (Barrymore), a canta… (more)

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