Murder in the Warren
"The Spiral Staircase", a lady in distress thriller, is a movie which I both love and hate, because for all that is good there is something which is bad. So whilst director Robert Siodmak creates moments of sublime atmosphere there are times where it all becomes a bit disjointed causing the first love hate issues. Then the fact we have what is essentially a who is the murderer storyline and we have a few possibilities for role of serial killer but because "The Spiral Staircase" has quite a few characters it seems to spend most of the story giving us back stories rather than progressing to the main story. And that is a shame because when it does come down to it and things finally focus on the central character of Helen being in danger it delivers a great twist.
Helen (Dorothy McGuire - Swiss Family Robinson) has been mute for many years but still manages to work as a maid to the sickly Mrs. Warren (Ethel Barrymore) at the Warren House where her two sons Professor Albert (George Brent) and Steven (Gordon Oliver) also live. With a serial killer targeting women with disabilities in the vicinity Mrs. Warren is concerned for Helen's safety and wants Helen to go with Dr. Parry (Kent Smith) for her own safety especially as trouble always seems to happen when Steven returns home from his regular holidays.
So to sum up "The Spiral Staircase" simply we have Helen a mute woman in a house on a stormy night and there is a serial killer on the loose who has a thing for killing the afflicted. That means we have a house with various possibilities from Professor Albert Warren and his stepbrother Steven to Mr. Oates one of the servants. And there is nothing wrong with that because with the wind, the rain, the dimming lights and the building full of rooms and corridors there is a great atmosphere and a sense of possibilities when it comes to who the serial killer is.
The trouble is that after an opening which sees a woman with a limp being murdered in a hotel room the story almost goes around in circles. We get all the stories surrounding the characters from Albert basically running Warren House, Steven carrying on in semi-secret with Blanche the secretary and Mrs. Warren sick in bed with something. Throw into the mix the nice Dr. Parry who likes Helen, Helen herself with her mutism as well as Mr. Oates and his wife Mrs. Oates and whilst certain elements arise which come back later on it almost loses focus.
The good news is that whilst it almost becomes a bit too rambling the pay off is worth it. Now of course we have the reveal as to who the serial killer is and that in itself is good, then there is the reasoning and various little elements are drawn together to explain why and how this person has been killing. But more importantly we get the twist and the twist is definitely worth the wait.
And to be honest whilst "The Spiral Staircase" does ramble a bit it is full of nice performances especially from George Brent, Ethel Barrymore and Gordon Oliver who play the Warren's a diverse bunch of strong characters. Although considering she is playing a mute Dorothy McGuire commands the screen as Helen, saying so much with a look rather than words.
What this all boils down to is that "The Spiral Staircase" is still an entertaining lady in distress thriller which has great atmosphere and performances. But for a movie which isn't long at just 83 minutes does seem to ramble a bit during the middle.