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
Music by Roy Webb
Cinematography Nicholas Musuraca
Edited by
Distributed by RKO Pictures
Release date
  • February 7, 1946 (1946-02-07) (New York City)[1]
Running time
83 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $750,000[2]
Box office $2.8 million (US rentals)[3]

The Spiral Staircase is a 1946 American film noir psychological thriller film directed by Robert Siodmak, from a screenplay by Mel Dinelli based on Ethel Lina White's novel Some Must Watch (1933).[4] The novel was adapted for a radio production starring Helen Hayes before reaching the screen.


Dorothy McGuire in The Spiral Staircase

In early 20th century New England, a serial killer 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.



RKO Pictures acquired the rights to produce the film from independent producer David O. Selznick, who had purchased the rights to Ethel Lina White's novel Some Must Watch (1933). The original working title was The Silence of Helen McCord. The film was shot between August through October 1945.[citation needed]


Variety wrote, "This is a smooth production of an obvious, though suspenseful murder thriller, ably acted and directed. Mood and pace are well set, and story grips throughout."[5] Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote, "This is a shocker, plain and simple, and whatever pretensions it has to psychological drama may be considered merely as a concession to a currently popular fancy."[6]

The review in Variety printed on December 31, 1945 praised Dorothy McGuire’s performance claiming that it produced many “unforgettable moments".

Ethel Barrymore was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the 19th Academy Awards.

The film earned RKO a profit of $885,000.[7]


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 as a feature film in 1975 with Jacqueline Bisset, and again as a TV movie in 2000 with Nicollette Sheridan.


  1. ^ "The Spiral Staircase: Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved April 29, 2014. 
  2. ^ Variety 12 September 1945 p 12
  3. ^ "60 Top Grossers of 1946", Variety 8 January 1947 p8
  4. ^ The Spiral Staircase at the TCM Movie Database.
  5. ^ "Review: 'The Spiral Staircase'". Variety. 1946. Retrieved February 20, 2015. 
  6. ^ Crowther, Bosley (February 7, 1946). "The Spiral Staircase (1946)". The New York Times. Retrieved February 20, 2015. 
  7. ^ Richard Jewell & Vernon Harbin, The RKO Story. New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1982. p210

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