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The Spiral Staircase

The Spiral Staircase(1946)

Remind Me

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In a small New England town in 1906, Helen McCord, a mute maid-servant, goes to see a moving picture on her day off. Just as the film ends, a crash is heard in the room upstairs, and when the projectionist runs up the stairs to investigate, he discovers the body of a lame girl strangled to death. The girl is the latest victim in a series of murders whose victims are all women suffering from physical imperfections. When Dr. Brian Parry, the new physician in town, arrives to examine the body, he is challenged by Dr. Harvey, the town's established doctor and Parry's professional rival. After Parry and Harvey argue, Parry offers to drive Helen to the house of Mrs. Warren, her invalid employer. Along the way, Parry encourages Helen to try and regain her voice. His expression of concern is interrupted when a young boy appears in the road and pleads with the doctor to examine his mother. As a storm brews, Parry leaves Helen to walk home alone while he drives off with the boy. As Helen approaches the house, it begins to pour, and she drops her keys while a man watches her from behind some bushes. After unlocking the door, Helen begins to climb the stairs to Mrs. Warren's bedroom. The figure of a man watches her from the stairway as she pauses to study her reflection in the mirror. When Helen enters Mrs. Warren's room, her bedridden employer warns her that she is not safe in the house and cautions her to leave immediately. Soon after, the constable appears at the house to inform Professor Albert Warren, Mrs. Warren's stepson, that the murderer is in the vicinity, but the professor reassures Helen that he will protect her. As the others concern themselves with the murderer, Steve Warren, Mrs. Warren's ne'er-do-well son who has just returned from Europe, romances Blanche, his mother's secretary. When Mrs. Warren suffers a relapse, Helen brings Steve to her bedside, and he revives her with ether. After he leaves the room, Mrs. Warren laments his return, claiming that trouble is his constant companion. Meanwhile, downstairs, the professor criticizes Steve's lack of responsibility and Steve accuses him of being jealous over his relationship with Blanche. Soon after, Dr. Parry, summoned by Mrs. Warren, comes to the house. In the privacy of her bedroom, Mrs. Warren confides to the doctor that his strength reminds her of her late husband, who detested his sons because he considered them to be weaklings. Fearing for Helen's safety, Mrs. Warren demands that Parry take her away that night. After consenting to her demands, Parry prescribes ether for his patient. The ether has mysteriously disappeared, however, and so the professor sends Oates, one of the servants, to the village for a new supply. To provide a stimulant for his stepmother's weakened condition, the professor, accompanied by Mrs. Oates, the housekeeper, descends to the cellar for a bottle of brandy. While they are there, Mrs. Oates, who is fond of alcohol, steals a bottle for herself. After treating Mrs. Warren, Parry insists that Helen leave the house with him that night and accompany him to Boston to see a specialist. Parry reveals to Helen that he knows that her muteness was caused by the trauma of watching her mother and father burn to death when she was a girl. Parry is interrupted by Steve, who cynically questions his concern for Helen. Before he can leave with Helen, however, the doctor is called away to care for the Wilson boy . Handing Helen a piece of paper with the Wilsons' phone number written on it, Parry tells her he will return later. After he departs, Helen fantasizes about marrying the doctor but being unable to speak the words "I do" during their wedding ceremony. Later, Blanche confides her unhappiness to Steve, and when he responds with taunts and threats, boasting that he likes to see women cry, she decides to leave with Helen. On her way to the cellar to fetch her suitcase, Blanche sees Mrs. Oates passed out in the kitchen, drunk. In the cellar, Blanche is startled by the sound of the howling wind but is comforted when she glimpses a familiar face. Her reassurance melts into terror, however, when the figure steps from the shadows and strangles her. Meanwhile, upstairs, Barker, Mrs. Warren's nurse, who is fed up with her employer's abuse, quits and the professor asks Steve to harness the horses and drive her into town. The professor then asks Helen to relay a message to Blanche, and when Helen descends to the cellar, she finds Blanche's body. Startled by Steve's sudden appearance in the cellar, Helen, certain that he is the murderer, locks the door and runs upstairs. Pulling the Wilsons' phone number from her pocket, Helen picks up the phone receiver but is unable to repeat the number to the operator. Finding the professor in the hallway, Helen hastily scribbles a note reporting Steve's murder of Blanche. Under the pretense of taking Helen to safety in his mother's room, the professor escorts her up the stairs, stopping in front of the mirror. Demanding that Helen look at her reflection, which has no mouth, the professor calmly announces that he is going to kill her because there is no room for imperfection. After recounting that the missing ether, Mrs. Oates's drunken state and Blanche's murder are all part of his premeditated scheme, the professor boasts that he plans to eliminate all the weakness and imperfection that his father detested. Shaking free of her persecutor, Helen runs into Mrs. Warren's room and tries to awaken the sleeping invalid. Just then, the constable knocks at the front door with news that Parry is unable to leave the Wilson boy. As the constable returns to his carriage, Helen pounds at the window, but he mistakes the sound for the banging of a gate and drives away. Helen then runs down to the cellar to free Steve, but sensing that the professor is waiting for her, she climbs back up the stairs. At the top of the stairs, Mrs. Warren waits, gun in hand, and shoots her stepson, causing Helen to scream at the sound of the shots. Mrs. Warren then sends her to get Steve and when he appears, she begs his forgiveness, explaining that she thought he was the murderer because the professor only killed when his half-brother returned home. When his mother collapses, Steve tells Helen to call Parry. Helen walks to the phone, picks up the receiver and recites the number.