Movie Review: Shadows on the Stairs (1941)

by StevenHelmer

A review of the 1941 murder mystery starring Frieda Inescort and Paul Cavanagh.

Synopsis: Joseph Reynolds secretly owns the boarding house he rents a room from while conducting mysterious business with his partner, Ram Singh. and carrying out an affair both with the mistress of the house and the maid. When he is found brutally stabbed in his room, all the house's tenants become murder suspects.


I came across this movie a couple days ago and, mostly because it was being compared to Sherlock Holmes, I decided to take the time to watch it. Because of time constraints, I wasn't able to get through the whole movie in one sitting. But, I did finally manage to watch the rest of it last night. And, unfortunately, it just wasn't as good as I was hoping it would be.

The movie actually does have a decent start to it. It quickly, but effectively, introduces the viewer to the victim (Cavanagh) and all the people who would later be suspects in his murder.

The mystery surrounding his death also starts out well. Outside of the obvious suspects, the maid (Phyllis Barry) and his turban-wearing business associate (Turhan Bey), there are at least four other people who were in the house  at the time of his death and two were unexpectedly gone when the body was found. Plus, since the movie made it clear, from almost the start, he was conducting secretive and likely illegal business, it was very possible his death had something to do with that.

The problem with this movie is it doesn't do a good job of keeping the mystery in play. Two of the household members are never seriously considered as suspects and three others are eliminated relatively quickly.

As a result, when the inspector (Lumsden Hare) narrows in on a suspect, which he's obviously wrong about (because he is incompetent and hasn't been right about anything else), it wasn't overly difficult to guess who the killer was. And, from there, the movie becomes pretty predictable as a result of that.

I also found I wasn't overly excited by the ending. I'd give it some points for originality. But, it really didn't seem to fit the overall tone of the movie. It was almost as though the filmmakers thought the film was a little too dark/depressing and threw in the ending as a desperate attempt to lighten things up at the last second and, ultimately, it just didn't work for me.

Shadows on the Stairs

Occupants become suspects in a string of murders committed in a London boarding house.

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Final Opinion

The movie starts out OK but winds up being a little too predictable. I would only consider it average as a result of that.

My Grade: C

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Updated: 01/19/2017, StevenHelmer
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DerdriuMarriner on 03/29/2022

StevenHelmer, Thank you for product lines, pretty pictures and practical information.
The library system here does have Shadows on the Stairs among its Blu-ray and DVD collections. It's possible that some of the older films that you've reviewed and that I've not found listed are hiding in plain sight in this 50-movie pack of Crime Classics DVD collection.

How would Shadows on the Stairs work as a colorized reboot or remake if the ending was changed and the mystery aspect were improved?

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