In a small New England town, a serial killer appears to be on the loose. He targets women with some form of disability. Enter Helen Chapel (Dorothy McGuire) who is a woman who is unable to speak so that makes for a big disability. She works as a caretaker to ill and elderly Mrs. Warren (Ethel Barrymore). Mrs. Warren's two sons live with her, Professor Warren (George Brent) and Steve Warren (Gordon Oliver). Mrs. Warren obviously believes one of her sons is the serial killer and wants Helen to get out of the house while she still can. Despite Mrs. Warren's pleadings, Helen does not leave. Since the house has a spiral staircase, it is a pretty good bet some kind of action is going to go down there.
I always find films that take place real-time very interesting. What I mean by real-time, is that this film all transpires in one single afternoon/evening. It starts with a murder at the hotel where Helen had been watching a movie. She goes to Mrs. Warren's home where she lives and is terrorized that evening by the murderer. Also, I love a good suspense film and this fits nicely into that category. The director, Robert Siodmak, does a really good job setting up creepy and interesting shots using shadows. The music, the Gothic style, the creepy shots (the gigantic eye will give me nightmares later) all handily set up a great atmosphere for a suspense/thriller.
The performances are good, but no one particularly stands out. I enjoyed seeing George Brent again, a decade after his leading man good looks had gone a bit. Dorothy McGuire does a decent job of portraying her emotions without using words. The one that got me was good ol' Ethel. I don't know what it is about the Barrymores, but so far they just crack me up! Ethel is sick and can't move from her bed so she does all her acting with her eyes. While she tells Helen to flee the house she talks softly but keeps opening her eyes wide for emphasis, then that exhausts her so the eyes close a bit, but here they come again all wide. That is repeated a hundred times throughout the movie. Maybe I am hard on the Barrymores, but I have to say, in this movie she invented eye-size acting. Joan Fontaine invented eyebrow waggle acting and Monty Cliff invented brooding and sweating acting. I guess you have to be famous for something :-)
All in all, this was a good little suspense B-movie. I think the main flaw was the predictability - at least for me. It was pretty clear who the killer was and how it was going to climax and what would happen. However, even given that, I still recommend watching this one when you get a chance. If for no other reason than this movie falls into the category of being one of those great b&w movies that they just don't make anymore, sadly.