YES, this classic would probably rank among my Top Ten horror films
of all time. In 1946 visually ahead of it's time with the amazing
scenes of the murderers eye in the closet and the reflection of a mouth-less
Helen in the eye of the murderer, just amazing.
Is this the Mother of all Gloved Killer movies ? Or maybe even the Mother
of all Gialli movies ? Well, sure, The Spiral Staircase is mainly
a Gothic horror thriller about a serial killer on the loose in a small
New England town at the beginning of the 1900's, a strangler who
choses his victims carefully as he only picks victims that are afflicted
by some sort of handicap, and with the film taking place in a big
old house, quite Gothic i guess.... and with a spiral staircase. BUT,
The Killer Wore Gloves ....
Behold ! The scene at the beginning of the film with
Helen running in the rain, through the garden to reach the presumed
safety of the
big old house. The possible killer watches her, standing at the side
of a tree and dressed in a black raincoat, a black hat and black gloves,
just about the archetype for the Gialli killer some 20 years later.
Surely this classic must've inspired a filmmaker as Dario Argento.
The Gialli Killer ?
Dorothy McGuire is fantastic in the role as Helen, she's
so natural and her every facial expression feels just right. Very impressive.
She's mute after surviving an accident as a child where her parents
died, and she's hired as a servant, or help, to the bedridden and sick
Mrs. Warren (Ethel Barrymore). The Warren mansion .... with the spiral
staircase. OK, so who are the players in this murder mystery then ?
Besides the old lady there are her sons, professor Warren (George Brent)
and his half-brother Stephen (Gordon Oliver), the secretary Blanche
(Rhonda Fleming), the nurse (Sara Allgood), the servants Mr. and Mrs.
Oates (Rhys Williams and Elsa Lancaster), Helen and her boyfriend,
the stuffy city doctor (Kent Smith). One of them are the murderer and
Helen is in acute danger.
Rhonda Fleming, light and shadows
The film starts with a spectacular murder scene. A silent
film is shown in a cinema at a hotel, and Helen is in the audience.
Upstairs in a room
a woman with a limp is changing her clothes .... when the camera suddenly
moves into her open closet, and between her garments we get to
see The Eye, the eye of the murderer. Unique for it's time and surely
the influence for a lot of future directors, aaah Robert Siodmak, great
stuff and kudos also to the cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca. And,
the second eye-scene on the stairs may be even more impressive.
This strangling, is the second murder in this little town and the police
warns the professor that perp has been traced and believed to be in
vicinity of the Warren mansion. Old Mrs. Warren tells Helen to "leave
this house tonight", "you're not safe here".
Above, the old US DVD release
The film is presented in a 4:3 fullscreen original ratio
in black & white and with a DTS-HD MA stereo english audio with
Blu-ray Extras: an Audio Commentary by film historian Sara Smith, a
1945 Screen Director's Playhouse Radio Broadcast of The Spiral
Staircase with Dorothy McGuire and Robert Siodmak, a Theatrical trailer,
some other trailers