Customer Review

28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gothic, Noirish, Hitchcockian Masterpiece., 23 Jan 2011
This review is from: The Spiral Staircase [DVD] [1945] (DVD)
Helen Capel was rendered mute in childhood due to a family trauma, now she acts as a companion to the bed ridden Mrs Warren. She's currently fretful because a serial killer is on the loose and he preys on women with afflictions...

Based on Ethel White's novel "Some Must Watch," The Spiral Staircase harks back to the days of the "old dark house" thrillers and encompasses a German expressionist sheen. The setting is an old Gothic mansion in New England at the turn of the century. Directed by Robert Siodmak, not one spooky house thriller genre convention has been neglected here. The tension builds amid creaking doors and gates, whistling winds, flickering candles, blowing curtains and cut-aways to the eyes of the unseen lurking madman waiting to add poor Helen to his roll call of victims. Mirrors, windows and shadows feature prominently as craftsman Siodmak spins his uneasy expressionistic web.

The cast are uniformly strong. Dorothy McGuire gives one of her best and most convincing performances as the under threat Helen. While Ethel Barrymore (nominated for Best Supporting Actress), Elsa Lanchester and George Brent all turn in brilliant performances. But perhaps it's not unfair to say that the real stars here are the technical staff? Siodmak expands his talent and knowing from his work at Universal Pictures (Son Of Dracula/The Suspect), Albert D'Agostino's sets are wondrous period delights and Nicholas Musuraca's deep-focus photography has the ability to make one keep looking over the shoulder to see if something is lurking in the room with us...

There's quite a few changes in this adaptation from the novel, notably the setting was in England and Helen was a cripple and not mute. But few could seriously argue that The Spiral Staircase in silver screen form is anything but a triumphant piece of classic cinema. 10/10
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Tracked by 1 customer

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Showing 1-10 of 13 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 25 Dec 2011 14:10:46 GMT
Ronald Haak says:
Exactly! These are the luxuriant glories that ornament this film and carry it well beyond routine suspensers. You might be interested in my long comment appended to the review by E.A. Solinas that appeared just five reviews prior to yours.

Even as I type this, I can CLEARLY see in my mind's eye Helen frantically racing along the long, long corridor leading to Ethyl Barrymore's bedroom, employing her hands expressively as she runs. A matchless treat for the discerning eye.

Posted on 25 Dec 2011 15:41:49 GMT
[Deleted by the author on 27 May 2012 18:47:03 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Jan 2012 20:55:36 GMT
Spike Owen says:
Hi Ronald

Thanks for the response here. Great to see someone as enamoured with the film as myself.

Of your comment, has it been likened to Hichcock, since that seems to be an issue for you and I haven't come across that comparison before?

Regards

Spike

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Jan 2012 12:51:54 GMT
Ronald Haak says:
The comparison to Hitchcock surfaces several times in these columns. several Amazon reviewers dissed the film and gave it low ratings complaining it doesn't measure up to Hitchcock as a suspense generator. I weighed in on the grounds that their standard is too narrow and ignores other delicious dimensions that Hitchcock doesn't care to develop in his films, and these special treats make this film a standout in its own terms. Now that I think about it, I appended my comments to three reviews didn't make the comparison with Hitchcock, and I should've appended my comments to the low-raters instead. Maybe I thought the latter wouldn't grasp them fully and they'd be wasted..

Of course, I'm wild about Hitchcock like everyone else, but I wanted to encourage those who hadn't seen SPIRAL STAIRCASE not to be put off from buying it by the negative comparisons with Hitchcock (of which you are 100% innocent, just as you mention). Hmmm, just talking about the film makes me want to run right off and enjoy it again, right this minute!

Thanks again for your splendid review and I'll look forward to others. Regards, Ron

Posted on 17 May 2012 14:09:41 BDT
Last edited by the author on 17 May 2012 14:11:12 BDT
JONESY says:
I liked the camerawork and the Gothic feel to the film , but unfortunately the story itself was very simplistic and the ending just plain lame.
The suspense is negated due to the fact that the villain is painfully obvious from the outset.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 May 2012 19:44:59 BDT
Spike Owen says:
Ron

Have you seen The Queen of Spades?

Spike

In reply to an earlier post on 17 May 2012 19:48:39 BDT
Last edited by the author on 17 May 2012 19:50:11 BDT
Spike Owen says:
Hi

Is the villain being known a problem to a viewer? Surely this is about feeling Helen Capel's isolation? We are asked to slip into her mute world, to that end the makers achieve the desired effect perfectly.

Thanks for posting in the conversation.

Spike

In reply to an earlier post on 27 May 2012 18:45:14 BDT
Last edited by the author on 29 May 2012 01:33:33 BDT
Ronald Haak says:
Spike: Queen of Spades? You bet! Own it, relish it, recommend it. By now I've seen so many representations of Tsarist officers whiling away their off duty hours by gambling, drinking vodka until they collapse and groping gypsies (Anna Karenina, War and Peace, et al.) and Gogol's stories showing the Russian hunger for status upgrades, that I fully accept the outlines of the story. Another bonus is Anton Walbrook whose acting range is limitless. I'd enjoy launching an ongoing chat along these lines. My e-mail address is listed in my Amazon profile.

In reply to an earlier post on 30 May 2012 11:06:35 BDT
Spike Owen says:
Hi again Ron

Are you a member of IMDb?

Spike

In reply to an earlier post on 30 May 2012 11:47:43 BDT
Ronald Haak says:
No, but if it will facilitate our chats, it might be just the thing. Can you fill me in on what to do and how to get in the swim?
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