1940s Film Noir At Its Best,
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This review is from: The Spiral Staircase [DVD]  (DVD)
A serial killer commits a spate of murders of young women possessing disabilities in turn of the 20th Century New England and a young, mute serving girl (Dorothy McGuire) is the next target of his attentions. From a night out in town, she returns to her employer's creepy Gothic mansion in the middle of a thunderstorm and is followed along the way. Once home she needs to attend to the bed-ridden Family matriarch (Ethel Barrymore) who knows more than she's letting on, but warns the girl she must leave that very night if she's knows what's good for her. In the meantime the other servants are called out or leave.
Despite the 'Gothic house in a thunderstorm' cliché, this is a superbly plotted, acted, directed and filmed suspense thriller. The emphasis is very much on the cinematography and the visual stylisation. Ethel Barrymore was nominated for an Oscar and Dorothy McGuire should have been too. Being mute she has virtually nothing to say. All her acting is in her movement and facial expression and she is very clever in this. The rest of the cast are very capable too. Directed by Robert Siodmak, this is likened very much to the best of Alfred Hitchcock, but if anything, it surpasses him up until Psycho (1960). It keeps you guessing up until the end, but my lasting impression of this thriller is the creepy eyes looking through the key hole at various times.
This film is the epitome of 1940s film noir and thoroughly deserves five stars. My only misgiving is that Widescreen filming hadn't been invented at the time. That really would have been the icing on the cake.