The Spiral Staircase

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

All the ingredients are here for a classic shocker. It's a dark and stormy night. A serial killer is at large. The mute girl in the Gothic mansion at the edge of town could be the next victim. A window has been forced. Somewhere in the house, a murderer waits.

Hitchcock would have jumped at this, but in 1945 he was still in England. Robert Siodmak directs from a tight script by Mel Dinelli.

There are stereotypical figures, such as the handsome doctor, the caddish younger brother and the boozy cook (Elsa Lanchester), who are played with individuality and style. Ethel Barrymore is the bedridden matriarch, who hates her nurses and has little time for her sons, the cad (Gordon Oliver) and the professor (George Brent), "both weaklings". She likes Helen (Dorothy McGuire), the girl who can't talk, and warns her to leave the house immediately.

It's not that the old lady would recognise the killer, but she has a sixth sense and seems to know things before anyone else. Rhonda Fleming plays the professor's secretary, who is having a fling with the cad. You can tell from this that she's destined to be a star.

Although dated, the film retains a tension throughout. Some of the acting is too theatrical, especially Barrymore. Brent is authoritative, McGuire soft and Lanchester hilarious.

Fear does not need to be seen to be believed. Hitchcock knew this. Siodmak knows it, too.

Reviewed on: 05 Sep 2001
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The Spiral Staircase packshot
A serial killer of disabled women stalks a mute girl in a gothic mansion during a thunder storm.
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Director: Robert Siodmak

Writer: Mel Dinelli, based on Some Must Watch by Ethel Lina White

Starring: Dorothy McGuire, George Brent, Ethel Barrymore, Kent Smith, Rhonda Fleming, Gordon Oliver, Elsa Lanchester

Year: 1945

Runtime: 81 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

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