The Spiral Staircase

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The Spiral Staircase

The Spiral Staircase” starts off with an afflicted woman being murdered, and right from the onset I was surprised at how explicit it was for its time – by today’s standards it’s nothing you don’t see every day on television, but 1946 was a very different time.It then moves onwards and we are introduced to a young woman who is mute and lives in a mansion with a long, spiraling staircase. (Hint: this pays off later in the movie.) When it’s made known that a killer is making his rounds murdering afflicted women, the owner of the mansion fears for the mute woman’s life – and after a string of more murders occur they realize she’s next.RKO’s picture was far ahead of its time. Someone on here said it’s not a film noir and commanded that people stop calling it one. I’ll disagree. I think it IS film noir, in the sense that it’s a personal struggle for one person who’s surrounded by death and murder. I don’t think it should be left up to one person to decide what “film noir” really means. I do think there are limits of course (“Batman Returns” is NOT film noir, it just tries to come across as one) but no one should say, “This isn’t a film noir because it’s a thriller.” So what? Loads of film noirs are thrillers.I personally feel the stylings, the themes and the motif of the movie could be classified as “film noir.” It’s a beautiful movie to look at, very well filmed, and the ending is probably one of the best I can remember ever seeing.It’s had a few remakes over the years, but the first remains the best – by a long shot.Highly recommended.

The Spiral Staircase

Trivia While this film was based on Ethel Lina White’s 1933 novel “Some Must Watch,” there are several major differences. In the novel, the maid stalked by the killer was not mute. It was also set in contemporary England, not early 1900’s New England. Finally, the title of the film and the idea of incorporating a “spiral staircase” as a thematic element comes from another source entirely: Mary Roberts Rinehart’s 1908 novel “The Circular Staircase.” The heroine of the book was not mute or crippled, nor were any of the murderer’s victims. See more »

The Spiral Staircase

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The Spiral Staircase became a blue print for many disabled woman thrillers that would follow in its path, See No Evil, Sorry, Wrong Number, Wait Until Dark and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? to name a few. The film was remade in 1975 with Jacqueline  Bisset and again in 2000 as made for television movie with Nicollette Sheridan.  Almost needless to say neither reached the level of the original film.

What a wonderful review of one of my most beloved films. Since I saw “The Spiral Staircase” for the first time I immediately fell under its spell. The interplay of light and shadow, the sheer unbearable suspense, the great actors (this movie immediately made me an admirer of George Brent ) the eery music score – all this is so brilliant.

Operating on the time-tested theory that moviegoers are seldom more satisfied than when a film causes them to experience cold chills, RKO-Radio yesterday treated audiences at the Palace to a creepy melodrama, called “The Spiral Staircase.” This is a shocker, plain and simple, and whatever pretentions it has to psychological drama may be considered merely as a concession to a currently popular fancy. It is quite evident by the technique Director Robert Siodmak has employed to develop and sustain suspense—brooding photography and ominously suggestive settings—that he is at no time striving for narrative subtlety.

In relating this arresting tale about a psychopathic killer who terrorizes a New England town, circa 1906, Director Siodmak has literally put the evil eye on the victims. For he has used his camera to give the spectator a closeup of the murderer’s baleful eyes as they strike terror into his helpless victims, who, by the way, all are pretty, young girls. Whether “The Spiral Staircase” is a faithful translation of Ethel Lina White’s novel, “Some Must Watch” we are not in a position to say, but we do know that the film is likely to scare the daylights out of most of its audiences.

The Ethel Lina White novel Some Must Watch was first offered on film in 1946 as The Spiral Staircase. This same title was used for a 1962 television adaptation, 1975 British TV-movie remake, and the 2000 made-for-cable feature. The 2000 version updated the original story to re-set from the early 20th century to present day. Filmed on locations in Vancouver and Victoria, Canada, the 2000 version was made for Fox Family network (now ABC Family), as a remake of three previous films, still based on Ethel Lina White’s novel, and using the same title as the previous films of 1946, 1962, and 1975.

It’s a brilliant opening to a magnificent thriller that Alfred Hitchcock would have been proud to have made. Instead, the film is the child of another master of dark suspense, Robert Siodmak and the master of shadows and light, Nicholas Musuraca. It is Musuraca’s evocative lighting, his painting shadows on the walls, combined with the masterful camera placement of Siodmak that make this film so thrilling. A combination of low-angles and stark lighting against wrought iron fences and a circular staircase creates an eeriness that sends chills down the spine. The entire film is painstakingly crafted and well acted. The film is both a throwback to works like The Old Dark House filled with scenes of drenching rain, crackling thunder, candles that mysterious blow out, and the more current cinema of directors of recent thrillers like John Carpenter.

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