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Shadows on the Stairs

Shadows on the Stairs(1941)

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At a London dockside in 1937, two men watch as a large box is unloaded from a barge. Later, the men, Joseph Reynolds and Ram Singh, return to their boardinghouse, which is run by Mrs. Stella Armitage. The next day at breakfast, Stella encourages her husband Tom to attend a lecture which will keep him out of town over night. Stella and Joe are longtime lovers, but unknown to Stella, Joe has also been having an affair with Lucy, the maid. The other residents of the house include Miss Snell, a maiden lady with a taste for romantic novels, aspiring playwright Hugh Bromilow, and Sylvia, the Armitages' daughter. After breakfast, Stella fires Lucy for insubordination. Later, Stella privately begs Joe to put an end to his mysterious business dealings which began ten years ago when he bought her the boardinghouse. He responds that this latest business will be his last deal and asks her to make sure that everyone is in bed by midnight. After Stella leaves the room, Lucy threatens to expose Joe if he refuses to help her financially. Then Singh warns Joe not to betray him if he values his life. Hugh tells Sylvia that he is writing a play, a thriller, and asks her to marry him if it sells. Sylvia gladly agrees. That night, after everyone has gone to bed, Hugh and Sylvia, who have just returned from an evening out, see a figure draped in a shawl descend the stairs from Lucy's room. After they say goodnight, the figure enters Joe's room and stabs him to death. When Singh arrives with the dockside box, he discovers that Joe's door is locked, and returns the box to its hiding place. The next morning Lucy, Miss Snell and Singh are all gone. Then Stella discovers Joe's body and breaks down in hysterics. Hugh goes for the police, who question the inhabitants as they return to the house one by one. Miss Snell discloses that she left the house to attend an early church service. When Singh returns, he reveals that the box was filled with a half million pounds intended for people working to overthrow the British government. After Tom returns from his lecture, Hugh finds Lucy's body in a closet. A suicide note convinces the police that Lucy killed Joe and then committed suicide, but Hugh is skeptical. Privately he questions Tom, who admits that he killed Joe out of jealousy after finding Lucy's body. Hugh then finishes reading from his new play, which features characters based on the people in his boardinghouse. In reality, Stella and Tom are happily married; Singh is a student; Joe is a businessman; and Lucy is the well-liked maid. Hugh proposes to Sylvia as he did in the play and reveals that he is really Dwight Winston, a successful playwright who has been living incognito in order to find fresh material. Hugh and Sylvia then hurry off to obtain their marriage license.