This moody ghost story resounds as a rich and textured gothic haunted house film containing some of the best ghostly special effects of its time. If made in Germany, Japan or France this film could have been turned into a chilling horror masterpiece, unfortunately it’s bungled by a Hollywood aesthetic of artificial romance and comedy which dulls the effects of its progressive horror concept and as such never really rises to its better contemporaries, Rebecca or the Ghost and Mrs. Muir.
The Uninvited (1944) dir. Lewis Allen
Starring: Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp, Gail Russell
By Alan Bacchus
Siblings Rick Fitzgerald (Ray Milland) and his sister Pamela (Ruth Hussey) while vacationing on the east coast stumble upon an unoccupied seaside home. Beautiful, extravagant, gothic and vacant, the pair, on a whim, decide to find the owner and purchase it. The owner Commander Beech (How Green Was My Valley’s Donald Crisp) is a strange fellow who easily agrees to the purchase for a paltry sum of $500. What’s the catch? Well, the place has a ghost. Something which actually amuse Rick and his sister.
Once in the house they start to feel some unexplainable drafty breezes which seem to emanate from the artist’s loft. Enter Beech’s granddaughter Stella who disapproves of the sale because the house was the site of her mother’s death, a dramatic death/suicide over a rocky cliff. Stella herself seems to be especially susceptible to the ghost’s control, at one point been taken over and almost forcing her into a suicide similar to her mother’s. Revelations from the town physician reveal a mistress of Stella’s father, Carmel who may have killed Stella’s mother. Maybe she is the ghost haunting the house?
A complicated backstory involving Stella’s mother, father, Carmel, Commander Beech, a sanatorium nurse and other townsfolk create a Byzantine collection of murderous motivations, with Stella at the crux. Rick who has by now developed an attraction to Stella scrambles to solve the mystery, exorcise the ghost and save Stella and their new house.
Milland’s drole English personality, which fit the bill so well for Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder, is again supremely watchable. At times the film is deadly serious to its subject matter, especially the memorable seance sequence where Rick, Pamela and Stella engage in some play with a Ouija board. Milland witnesses to some truly spectacular ghostly apparitions, but through his eyes we never really feel the fear we’d expect from a haunted house picture.
Director Allen counterplays the serious tone with a number of bumbling comic sequences, and overly silly comic music. It’s all part of the Hollywood formula, providing audiences with a little of everything, I guess, thus satisfying all tastes – suspense, comedy, romance etc.
The Criterion Collection would disagree, claiming the film as ‘groundbreaking’ in how it treated the occult. That may be so, but we can’t help but imagine this film made better by say Fritz Lang or Henri-George Cluziot, Kenji Mizoguchi.
The Uninvited is available on Blu-Ray from The Criterion Collection