The Spiral Staircase (1946 film)

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The Spiral Staircase
Spiral staircase21.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Siodmak
Produced by Dore Schary
Screenplay by Mel Dinelli
Based on the novel Some Must Watch 
by Ethel Lina White
Starring Dorothy McGuire
George Brent
Ethel Barrymore
Music by Roy Webb
Cinematography Nicholas Musuraca
Edited by Harry Gerstad
Dore Schary Productions
Distributed by RKO Pictures
Release dates
  • February 7, 1946 (1946-02-07) (New York City)[1]
Running time
83 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Spiral Staircase is a 1946 American psychological thriller film directed by Robert Siodmak, from a screenplay by Mel Dinelli based on Ethel Lina White's novel Some Must Watch (1933).[2] The novel was adapted for a radio production starring Helen Hayes before reaching the screen.


Set in early 20th century New England, the film is about a serial killer who murders disabled young women in the community. His next victim apparently is Helen (McGuire), a mute girl working as a live-in companion for the wealthy, bedridden Mrs. Warren (Barrymore).

Mrs. Warren urges her to leave the house, as does Dr. Parry, who knows the reason for Helen's loss of speech and hopes to help her get her voice back. Rounding out the household are Mrs. Warren's son and stepson, her verbally abused nurse, a secretary, a handyman and his wife, a housekeeper with a taste for brandy.




The film earned RKO a profit of $885,000.[3]

Critical response[edit]

Film critic Dennis Schwartz wrote a positive film review, "Robert Siodmak directs a perfectly eerie stylish thriller a la Hitchcock, which even the master of suspense would be envious of, that is based on the novel Some Must Watch by Ethel Lina White ... The talented cast is superb, knowing how to get the most suspense and shocks from such a creaky thriller. But the radiant heroine performance by Dorothy McGuire as a terrified mute, who conveys her inner thoughts without dialogue, was priceless. Siodmak created a near-masterpiece, an elegant film that can be enjoyed as one of the better 'lady in distress' thrillers. There was an awful remake in 1975 starring Jacqueline Bisset, which convincingly shows that Siodmak and the cast can't be praised enough for their artistic accomplishment."[4]


The Spiral Staircase was adapted as a half-hour radio play on the November 25, 1949 broadcast of Screen Director's Playhouse, starring Dorothy McGuire in her original role.

It was remade in 1975 as a feature film with Jacqueline Bisset (The Spiral Staircase) and again in 2000 as a television movie with Nicollette Sheridan (The Spiral Staircase).


  1. ^ "The Spiral Staircase: Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved April 29, 2014. 
  2. ^ The Spiral Staircase at the TCM Movie Database.
  3. ^ Richard Jewell & Vernon Harbin, The RKO Story. New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1982. p210
  4. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, January 194, 2004. Accessed: July 9, 2013.

External links[edit]

Streaming audio[edit]