Robert Siodmak’s The Spiral Staircase is a classic Hitchcockian thriller set in a shadow-filled Victorian house. The manor’s mute servant girl, Helen, is threatened by a murderer on the premises—a killer who targets those burdened by afflictions….
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It's obvious that the psychological tinge of the film is an embellishing afterthought, some layer-adding paneling, but its acute parental imbroglios (the circumstances of Helen's losing voice, A.Warren's methodical weakling removal) make the staircase almost an image of a strangling, looped & delayed nuchal cord. Someone had to finally do the clamping. Btw, the original working title was The Silence of Helen McCord.
THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE remains a forceful example of 40s Freudian Hollywood stew, equal parts gaslight melodrama, Gothic horror, and post-war trauma noir. The woman, the wound. Freud and castration. A murderer embodying a Nazi-like eugenicist ideology--this son, tormented by his own incapacity, raised by a domineering monster. Siodmak was of course one of the great Hollywood refugees, in flight from Europe's nightmare.
35mm, rewatched. This still comes from the extraordinary initial part that, like in a silent film, gets all its action from the camera's expressiveness, finding a model frame in the one of the murderer's eye, and subsequent subjective look - where Michael Powell and De Palma came for inspiration. The film is a succession of gothic fictional moments embedded in a kino-eye that brings us back to the power of cinema.
Despite its reputation as a suspense classic, I just could never get into this one. It's well-shot with great black and white photography, and some strong work from its cast. But it spends too much time on melodramatic romantic subplots, so that the thriller aspects are never quite developed enough, though the climactic sequence is impressive. Not a bad film, but I personally can't consider it the classic many do.
Horror and mystery movie playing with shadows, light, psychoanalysis, a gothic mansion, dreams and a labyrinthic cellar. The main character is mute and likes silent movies. Ethel Barrymore's performance is one to be remembered. Recommended.