The Spiral Staircase

April 02, 2009

By Nicole
Hollywood Nerd

Guest Blogger

A few months ago, TCM aired a mini Dorothy McGuire movie marathon, starting with the eerie and frightening 1945 classic film "The Spiral Staircase" and ended with the lovely and dramatic " 1945 fantasy film "The Enchanted Cottage". I had never seen any of Dorothy McGuire's films and thought I would give her films a try. I first watched "The Spiral Staircase" and was completely enthralled by the film. The film is about a young mute maid who is working for an elderly woman and her family. The elderly woman's health is deteriorating and she doesn't have much longer to live. Her two sons are played by the ever so talented George Brent and Gordon Oliver. Gordon Oliver's character has been smitten with the secretary of the house played by the very young Rhonda Fleming. Elsa Lanchester brings comic relief to a film that is filled with a dark atmosphere.

The entire film is set in an old mansion where Ethel Barrymore and her two sons live. Dorothy McGuire plays a young woman who is unable to speak because of an incident that she endured when she was a child. A young doctor played by Kent Smith tries to help her speak but Dorothy's fear continues to dominate her life. Around town, young women are being murdered because of flaws they are unable to control. The household fears that Dorothy could be next because of her inability to speak and some of the guests of the mansion carefully watch over her. They fear that the killer may be residing within the house and all are terrified of what may come to be. Throughout the film all you see of the killer are the eyes and hands, nothing more. So it gives the idea that it can be anyone that is living inside the house but who would go to length of trying to kill an innocent woman who has done nothing wrong?

Within the film, there are many twists and turns, that will make you believe one thing while it may be another thing. The characters each show a vulnerability that enables you to see in the eyes of that particular character. When I had watched this movie, I was really terrified, never having seen such a film quite like this. It's a film that not only terrifies you within but it is something that could actually happen.

Throughout the film, you feel sympathy for the mute maid and you want to see if she will get out alive in the horrid situation that seems to be following her. Will she make it out alive or is it too late?


Elizabeth said...

Beautiful artwork! Very Edward Gorey!

Unknown said...

WOW! Thanks Elizabeth! Ultimate compliment!! I was actually trying to make it look like German Expressionism/FW Murnau-ish, but I never, ever actually draw what I think I'm drawing :)

Anonymous said...

Well done Nicole and Kate!

I was terrified by The Spiral Staircase the first time I watched it too, Nicole. It's such a neat film because it seems like a cross between horror and film noir.

Your sketch does have a feel of Edward Gorey and the German expressionists, Kate. It's amazing! I especially like how you arranged the strokes in the background part to swirl around the staircase. It gives the piece a great sense of movement. :)

Lolita of the Classics said...

Great post. What a funny idea with the guest blogging! I need to see this film.

R. D. Finch said...

Kate, I'm so glad you've discovered Dorothy McGuire. She's one of the great undervalued actresses of 1940s. I just love her, and in every part she ever played just radiated great charm. She never seemed to be trying too hard. "The Spiral Staircase" is for me her best performance, and I find it astounding that she didn't get an Oscar nomination for this performance. She's as good as Jane Wyman in "Johnny Belinda," who was not only nominated but won! She also had some good roles in the 50s before turning to soaps like "A Summer Place." She was always not only lovely but also had a lovely screen personality too.

R. D. Finch said...

Oops. I should have addressed my comments to Nicole. My apologies.

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

I'm with RD Finch, Nicole. Dorothy McGuire is one of the greats, and an opportunity to see any of her films should not be missed. So glad you enjoyed the film.

Very evocative sketch, Kate.

Nina S. said...

one of my favorites of her work is The Dark at the Top of the Stairs!