FILM OF THE DAY: SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1945)

INFIRM? ELDERLY? VULNERABLE? BEWARE, THERE’S A KILLER ON THE LOOSE. AND HE’S LOOKING FOR YOU!

spiral_staircase_ver2A surprisingly frightening noir, starring George Brent and Dorothy McGuire, The Spiral Staircase leads you on a twisting and turning journey of murder and suspicion. Just when you think you’re on comfortable and familiar ground and, indeed, are about to write it off after a few minutes as being predictable and hammy, you quickly realise the film has you turned around and that in fact you’re not where you thought you were at all.

spiral-staircase-muteA killer with a weakness for those suffering from afflictions begins to strike in a small town. Helen, played by Dorothy McGuire hasn’t spoken since she was a child – surely, as a mute, she too will become a victim? The killer sees her and is overcome with an urge to destroy her. But who is he? Or she?

spiralstaircase-3Nicholas Musuraca’s fantastic, crisp, noir cinematography does much to heighten the sense of an impending threat, veiling the mansion – in which most of the action takes place – in heavy, gothic shadows and masking the killer’s face, revealing all but an eye.

In fact, the motif of the close-up eye is used throughout the film, but, cleverly, director Robert Siodmak uses close-ups from different actors to represent the killer’s own eye, thereby increasing the difficulty the audience has in identifying the culprit.

20120810-121310At first you suspect the elderly doctor, then the young doctor. Or could it be Helen’s employer, the seemingly bed-ridden Mrs. Warren, played to excellent effect by Ethel Barrymore…?

spiral-staircase-gunDeeper and deeper we are led, turning around and around, in and out of rooms, up and down stairs, bounced from one character to another. Alfred Hitchcock meets Agatha Christie? Perhaps. But one thing is for certain – you’ll be checking and double checking all your windows are locked…

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posted by Dixie Turner

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