Where Forgotten Films Dwell

Welcome to this site! It exists for one reason: to preserve the memory of films that have been forgotten about or under-appreciated throughout the ages. Take a seat, read an entry, leave a comment. You might discover your new favorite movie!

Saturday, December 8, 2012


Editor's Note: You all may have noticed that activity has been...well...slow. That's because I'm doing my final projects and exams for my Film Studies Master's Degree. So, in the meantime, I've asked some of my friends to do guest reviews. Next up is ClassicBecky with a review of Robert Siodmak's THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE!!

In my part of the country, November shows its unique face with winds moaning and sighing through the trees in the dark of night, sudden storms of lightning and thunder and cold rain –- could there be a more perfect time for a movie of terror and suspense? If you don’t have such weather, you can experience it if you turn off the lights and watch The Spiral Staircase. Released in 1945, it is a story of a mad killer on the loose in turn of the century New England, raging storms and a house with plenty of shadows and fear at every turn. Imagine yourself on a stormy night with no electricity, moving through such a house with only a candle or dim lamp, and imagine making your way down a spiral staircase to a basement where horrors may lurk. Now you are in the mood.

The lovely Dorothy McGuire plays Helen, a lonely, vulnerable girl who was rendered mute by a mysterious traumatic experience in her childhood. She is companion to Mrs. Warren, played by Ethel Barrymore, a strong-willed, cranky invalid confined to her bed but sharp and domineering. George Brent and Gordon Oliver play step-brothers Professor Warren (born of the father's first wife) and Steven Warren, (born of the invalid Mrs. Warren). Mrs. Warren believes, to her sorrow, that she has reason not to trust her son Steven, the prodigal son who turns up periodically. Whenever Steven is around, bad things happen. The supporting cast is perfection, with Kent Smith as the sensible Dr. Parry, whose visits to Mrs. Warren fit perfectly with his desire to see Helen, Elsa Lanchester as the amusingly drunken cook, Rhys Williams as her rather sullen caretaker husband, a young Rhonda Fleming as the Professor’s secretary, Blanch, and the redoubtable Sarah Allgood as Mrs. Warren’s long-suffering and often insulted nurse

Mrs. Warren (Ethel Barrymore) and Helen (Dorothy McGuire)

This household of complicated relationships, indeed the whole community, is shocked by the murders of young women, all with some kind of handicap. In a wonderful piece of film-making, we are allowed to see only the killer’s eye in extreme close-up as he hides in wait for his victim, and then see the victim through the killer’s eye as he stalks and kills. This perspective is chilling, and the music of composer Roy Webb heightens the chills.

Professor Warren (George Brent)

Steven Warren (Gordon Oliver)

As the mystery unfolds, it becomes apparent that the killer must be someone in the Warren household, with the mute Helen as his next possible victim. A great storm rages without, and fear rules within. The spiral staircase plays its part beautifully, shadowed, with each turn bringing unknown terrors.

Turn off lights, listen to the wind blow, and treat yourself to a suspenseful and frightening piece of film-making that stands the test of time. The Spiral Staircase will not disappoint.

Check out ClassicBecky's website: http://classicbeckybrainfood.blogspot.com/


  1. Becks,
    So glad you chose Spiral Staircase to review here at Nate's place.

    Admittedly I wasn't that familiar with McGuire's work when I saw this film the first time but her performance set a tone for me that I enjoyed her enough to look for more of her films.
    I had forgotten that Rhonda Fleming was in this. (Another star of that era that I hadn't seen on screen) Elsa was cast perfectly in it as well.

    Like you, I love these thrillers/ suspense films. Perhaps the 40s did them best. Unlike today where we have to get the guts and visuals of the monsters lurking below the stairs to be scared. The subtleness and what's unknown keeps you glued to your seat.

    A very nice review of a very entertaining film.

  2. Thanks, Page. I do love most the scary films of the 40's, subtle, shadowed -- I hate the gory snuff-type movies now. I don't find them eerie or scary -- just gross! Glad you liked the piece!

  3. Becky and Nate, I thoroughly enjoyed THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE when I first saw it on TV as a young'un, and I loved your review! Dorothy McGuire is as sympathetic as she is lovely and winsome in a great lady-in-distress role. The supporting cast is terrific, with Ethel Barrymore always being a great presence, and Elsa Lanchester stealing the show, as always! Great post, and Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours from all of us here at Team Bartilucci HQ!

  4. Excellent post! Thanks for taking the time to post this.