The Spiral Staircase

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Consumer note: contains hammy acting even by 1945 standards. But a decent little thriller.

Omaha's own Dorothy McGuire stars as Helen, servant girl to rich, crazy, old Mrs. Warren (Ethel Barrymore). Mrs. Warren is bedridden, given to uttering semi-deranged warnings to Helen, and hurling churlish insults at everyone else. She's the head of a very dysfunctional family occupying a very spooky old mansion.

To add to the drama, there's a serial killer about. He's concentrating on (as we would say in this more enlightened time) differently-abled women: one with a limp, one "simple-minded", and … oh, did I mention that Helen can't speak, due to a psychological trauma incurred years ago?

Others occupying the mansion are two stepbrothers, one a professor, the other a ne'er-do-well just returned from abroad. The ne'er-do-well has the hots for Blanche, the professor's assistant (and who wouldn't, as she's played by Rhonda Fleming). There's a caretaker (Rhys Williams) with a wife (Elsa Lanchester) who's a little too fond of the basement brandy. A local doctor is smitten with Helen, but not enough to hang around when she finds herself in danger.

Movie quiz: since her muteness is psychological, do you think Helen might regain the ability to speak at a crucial moment?

  1. Yes.
  2. Of course.
  3. You'd have to be an idiot to say no.
  4. But in an ironic twist, she goes blind at the same time!
  5. Just kidding. There's no ironic twist.

Last Modified 2012-09-25 11:38 AM EDT