The Spiral Staircase (1945)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBB.5

USA, 1945.  RKO Radio Pictures, .  Screenplay by , based on the novel Some Must Watch by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by Dore Schary.  Music by .  Production Design by , .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by , .  Academy Awards 1946.

Much like the structure of its title, this thriller spins in place for much of its narrative but has some moments of visual flourish that will chill you to the bone.  A murderer is stalking the grounds of a turn-of-the-century American town and targeting women with disabilities, which means that shy, mute housemaid Dorothy McGuire is possibly on the list to be taken next.  Her invalid mistress Ethel Barrymore worries for the young girl’s safety, and as time progresses it comes to be understood that she is more than just randomly concerned: the killer might have ties to the house of McGuire’s employment and the family within it.  Rich period detail and a superb performance in the lead role, one of McGuire’s most indelible turns on film, make for a thrilling experience even if it doesn’t always demand rapt attention to the screen.  Scenes of ominous terror when the young woman is under threat more than make up for the times the plot stalls and is just making excuses to fill the time.

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