Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Spiral Staircase (Robert Siodmak, 1946) B

A rather fascinating and creepy murder mystery done in the style of a film noir. The Spiral Staircase is about Helen, a mute servant (the underrated Dorothy McGuire) who everyone she works for is concerned that she'll be the next target of a murderer who goes after women with disabilities. The beginning gave me chills, especially when Helen is walking up to her employer's mansion and in the shadows you see a man moving around, getting ready to attack her. Just when he lunges she rushes into the mansion and you breathe a sigh of relief. A couple of minutes later though, when you see Helen walking around the house, you find the same man lurking in the shadows and your heart races again. The film quiets down for a bit, veering off into the world of melodrama. I just wish there had been a couple more hints in between then and when you discover who the murderer is (which is, admittedly, pretty obvious). Dorothy McGuire isn't given much to do in the beginning since Siodmak almost refuses to give her any close ups to let her act with her eyes, but towards the end she really shines. The terror and rising desperation is frightening to watch. At first, I was ambivalent towards Ethel Barrymore's performance- her first of two nominations acting in a bed- but eventually she won me over. Some of those sideways glances she gave McGuire were even creepier than the actual murderer. Barrymore probably only got the nomination because of her legendary status, but, for most the part, it was a worthy nomination.

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