The Spiral Staircase (Robert Siodmak, 1946)


There’s a serial killer on the loose in a small New England Town. He’s after women who are ‘imperfect’, 40’s code for disability. Helen (Dorothy McGuire,) has been mute since she saw her parents burn alive in a fire as a child. She’s now the carer of a cantankerous old lady (Ethel Barrymore) who is living in a huge house full of tiger skins, taxidermy and other remnants of dead animals on the outskirts of town with her stepson (George Brent), her son (Gordon Oliver), an alcoholic cook (Elsa Lanchester) and a full time nurse (Sarah Allgood). Blanche (Rhonda Fleming), who first had an affair with one son and is now fooling around with the other, also seems to be living in the house. Why is not clear. But does she have long to live? There’s thunder and lighting, a roving camera that make the most of shadows cast, candles blowing out, a cellar full of cobwebs and murderous thoughts; flashbacks, canted angles, plays on point-of-view. Will Helen survive the night and get married to the Doctor (Kent Smith) who  loves her but who is away tending patients and about whom she has nightmares of not being able to voice ‘I do’ at their wedding?. Will she be able to scream? Will anyone hear her? THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE is a visually dazzling and hugely entertaining Gothic/Serial Killer film, and surely one of Siodmak’s greatest achievements in direction.

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