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THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE ($25) is probably one of the best thrillers to be produced during the 1940s and it ranks amongst my all time favorite films. With THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE director Robert Siodmak has flawlessly meshed a psychological thriller with the foreboding atmosphere of an old dark house. Set in New England during the early 1900s, THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE tells the tale of a young woman named Helen Capel (Dorothy McGuire), who works as a servant to the bedridden, elderly Mrs. Warren (Ethel Barrymore). During her childhood, Helen suffered a traumatic shock so severe that it left her mute. For Helen, small town life is fairly ordinary until an unknown assailant murders several of the local women. The fact that all of victims suffered from some sort affliction makes Helen a likely target, which worries her employer, as well as Dr. Parry, the local physician who has fallen in love with Helen. However before she can leave town, a severe storm strikes, forcing Helen to remain in her employer’s house with Mrs. Warren, as well as the old lady’s stepson Professor Warren (George Brent), her reckless son Steve (Gordon Oliver) and quite possibly the killer. Like any good thriller, THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE presents the viewer with a number of red herrings and does not reveal the killer’s identity until the final moments. Director Robert Siodmak wrings the maximum amount of tension of every scene, in addition to making some very interesting visual choices that place THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE well ahead of its time. The cast of THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE also features Rhonda Fleming, Elsa Lanchester, Sara Allgood, Rhys Williams and James Bell.

Anchor Bay Entertainment has made THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE available on DVD in a beautiful black and white presentation. Predating wide screen, THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE is framed at 1.37:1 or full screen. The black and white film element used for the transfer is in very good shape, displaying very few age-related blemishes. Mild film grain is occasionally noticeable, but it is never distracting. The image is striking in its crispness and detail, which enhances the period setting, as well as the film’s haunting atmosphere. Blacks are a solid inky black, while the whites are bright and accurate. The picture delivers excellent contrast through all the shades of gray, and there are no signs of the whites appearing blown out. This cleanly authored DVD doesn’t betray any traces of digital compression artifacts. The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack offers clean, intelligible dialogue reproduction, without any form of sonic distortion. The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection feature, as well as a theatrical trailer.

THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE is a great, classic thriller that has retained its impact for more than fifty years. Anchor Bay’s fine presentation does justice to this fine movie and makes the DVD more than worth acquiring for longtime film buffs. Recommended.





DVD reviews are Copyright © 2000 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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