The Spiral Staircase

It's been too long since I have enjoyed a hushed suspense thriller from the golden age of cinema. I will never understand the aversion to black-and-white films that certain people harbor in their unwillingness to escape modern diversionary tactics. The art of suggestion is too much for their brains to handle, I suppose. These movies require you to fill in the blanks. Personally, I need to watch antiquated genre goodies like 1945's The Spiral Staircase to reboot my hard drive in between viewings of sleazy Eurotrash quickies and brazen splatter romps. It reshuffles my deck, so to speak. Speaking of speaking...

God, that was a tragic segue. Let's see if I can bounce back from the depths of deplorable word play. Staircase follows Helen, a mute nurse who looks after the bedridden mother of the Warren boys (no, not the Warner boys). Professor Warren, the older and more sensible brother, has taken extra precautions to ensure the safety of our voiceless heroine. He has instructed the staff of his ornate mansion to see to it that Helen is never alone. Why all the hubbub? Because on this dark and stormy night, an unseen killer is stalking young women, young disabled women. The authorities believe that our Helen could be the next victim.

Meanwhile, autistic werewolves are raping patio furniture and vandalizing lighthouses in the name of Wink Martindale. NOTE: Portions of this synopsis have been fabricated for comedic effect. As for which portions are trustworthy, you'll just have to rely on your gut instinct. Ethel Barrymore was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance as the sickly matriarch, but in my opinion, Dorothy McGuire is the star of the show. Her mostly silent turn as Helen is phenomenal. She conveys more emotion with thoughtful, calculated facial expressions than some actors can muster with a script full of rambling dialogue.

The Spiral Staircase is definitely a film that you want to watch on DVD. The cinematography is exquisite, and the lighting is surgically precise (you can see a great deal of detail during the nighttime exterior shots). Director Robert Siodmak does a bang-up job of creating tension in the third act, even though the whodunit reveal is somewhat predictable. The plot holes will eat away at your psyche if you think about them too much. But this flick wasn't meant to be dissected. It was meant to be screened on a dark, stormy night while you cuddle with your main squeeze and devour popcorn. "Dark" and "stormy" are awesome adjectives.

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