Saturday, 16 March 2013
The Uninvited (1944)
Roderick Fitzgerald (Ray Miland) and his sister Pamela (Ruth Hussey) are enjoying a seaside holiday when they discover a charming old house set on a cliff overlooking the ocean. The house is empty so there’s a chance it might be for sale. Pamela has fallen in love with the house and Roderick, although he tries to play it cool, is obviously rather taken by it as well.
As luck would have it the house (which is called Windward) is for sale. Commander Beech (Donald Crisp) is prepared to accept their offer. It’s much less than the house is worth but the commander tells them he needs the money to provide for his grand-daughter.
As Roderick admits in his voiceover at the beginning of the movie they should have taken note of the fairly clear warning signs. Their dog refuses to go into the upstairs part of the house and the room at the top of the staircase that had been locked when they first saw the house is much too cold to be explained merely by draughts. Before very long they start to hear the sounds of a woman sobbing, sounds that always cease with the dawn.
Pamela believes right from the start that the house is haunted but Roderick doesn’t believe in such silliness. He is disturbed however and decides he should find out something about the history of the house.
It transpires that Commander Beech’s wife Mary Meredith died at Windward under mysterious circumstances seventeen years earlier. They get part of the story from Beech’s grand-daughter Stella Meredith (Gail Russell) and other parts from various locals. The commander had been a painter and the mysterious cold room at the top of the stairs was his studio. He had had two models, his wife Mary Meredith and a gypsy girl named Carmel. And thereby hangs a tale. It becomes apparent that Commander Beech had been having an affair with Carmel. He had tried to break it off with her but she had returned to the house. Carmel and Mary Meredith were seen on the edge of the cliff, and then Mary Meredith had fallen to her death.
What were the two women doing on the cliff edge? Was one trying to kill herself while the other tried to save her? Or were they struggling? Could it have been murder? Those who might know aren’t talking.
Roderick is rather taken by Stella Meredith but rather puzzlingly Commander Beech is determined that Stella Meredith should have nothing to do with Roderick and Stella and that she should stay right away from Windward. Pamela and Roderick do find an ally however, in the person of the local doctor, Dr Scott (Alan Napier). Unfortunately he has only been in the village for twelve years but he does the medical records kept by his predecessor in the practice. This provides some valuable clues.
Someone else who certainly knows something of the events of seventeen years ago is the sinister Miss Holloway (Cornelia Otis Skinner). She had been a registered nurse who had attended Mary Meredith. She now runs a sanatorium. Miss Holloway’s position is more than a little ambiguous however. Eventually, in true horror movie fashion, the brother and sister decide to hold a séance.
This is not a particularly terrifying film although it does have its share of eerie moments. The advertising tried its hardest to link this one with Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 hit Rebecca and it does have some similarities to Hitchcock’s masterpiece. I’d describe the The Uninvited as a gothic thriller/romance with supernatural elements. The romantic angle is as important as the supernatural angle. And like Rebecca it deals with dark secrets, with events in the past that were not what they appeared to be.
The movie benefits greatly from Ray Milland’s easy charm. The entire cast is very strong with Gail Russell in her first major role being quite impressive. Lewis Allen had a long and distinguished career as a director and he handles things with a sure touch, wisely keeping the ghost under wraps for as long as possible. When the ghost finally is revealed it’s reasonably impressive. The old house, the cliff-top setting, the script by Dodie Smith and Frank Partos and the cinematography by Charles Lang all combine to give this movie as much gothic atmosphere as anyone could reasonably want.
Exposure Cinema’s DVD release looks terrific.
The Uninvited is wonderful entertainment done with the sort of light touch that you just don’t see in movies these days. Highly recommended.