Synopsis: A pair of siblings from London purchase a surprisingly affordable, lonely cliff-top house in Cornwall, only to discover that it carries a ghostly price—and soon they’re caught up in a bizarre romantic triangle from beyond the grave.
Stars: Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Gail Russell, Dorothy Stickney, Barbara Everest, Alan Napier
Director: Lewis Allen
Running Length: 99 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: The true test of motion pictures in any genre is how well they stand the test of time. Can a movie made in 2022 hold up as well as one made in 1922? Time and technology aren’t the only things that separate motion pictures. The tastes of audiences are fluid, and cultural shifts occur. Until a crystal ball is invented that can tell Hollywood producers what will still hold appeal years in the future; it’s anyone’s guess what films made now will still have a foothold fifty years on. When you find a movie that does hold up and, in fact, outdoes its contemporaries, that’s when you know you have a winner.
Such a film is 1944’s The Uninvited, a haunted house thriller that I only saw for the first time a couple of years ago but shot right to the top of my favorite horror movies. While you won’t find any gore or masked killers sauntering around this black-and-white feature released by Paramount Pictures in February 1944, there’s enough tension created by its enveloping plot and carefully constructed images to keep a chill consistently running up your spine. Even better, it has a creative story with pieces to re-position throughout, making the experience a tip-to-tail joy.
Londoner Rick Fitzgerald (Ray Milland) and his sister Pamela (Ruth Hussey) are away from the city on vacation in a coastal town when they happen to come across a beautiful house for sale. With both siblings looking for a second home away from the clamor of city life, their interest is piqued when they find out they could get Windward House for a song. Figuring it was simply a matter of the owner Commander Beech (Donald Crisp), wanting to unload it to the right people, they buy it with little fanfare or second thought. While exploring the grounds, Beech’s granddaughter Stella (Gail Russell) catches Rick’s eye, further proof it seems that the home is a good investment.
Yet the house starts to show signs of issues once the brother and sister are ready to move in. It’s the small things at first. Domestic animals either recoil at or refuse to enter parts of the house, a terrible draft runs through the place, and they find out Stella’s mother fell (or was pushed) from the cliff directly outside their home when Stella was still a baby. A locked room opened seems to unleash more trouble, with a spiritual presence desperate to make itself known by any means necessary, even possession. A séance leads to one of the silver screen’s first images of a ghost…but is this specter offering a message of protection or a warning of danger to come?
First-time director Lewis Allen moves all the pieces nicely, with a beautiful interior set and outdoor views of the imposing cliffside. Adapted from Irish author Dorothy Macardle’s 1941 novel ‘Uneasy Freehold’ (later published as ‘The Uninvited’) by Dodie Smith (who wrote the novel on which 101 Dalmatians was based) and Frank Partos, the script for the film offers a wealth of fun scenes for the actors to play. Though it was rumored she was challenging to work with, Russell is delightful as the young ingenue whom the leading man develops feelings but might want to watch his back if he considers anything further. I also liked Hussey as Milland’s sister, a rare female written to be as strong as her male counterpart. The Uninvited is a film that also benefits from a strong supporting cast, many of whom have secrets that need to be unlocked at critical junctures.
If you’re searching for shocks-a-minute, this isn’t the film for you. Those on the lookout for the sophisticated scare this Halloween should welcome The Uninvited into their homes because it’s a dandy feature that quickly turns up the heat the deeper we delve into the house’s history. I was surprised by how tense things get, and stay, during the movie and appreciated that my expectations were upended. Now, The Uninvited is one of my ‘secret weapon’ recommendations for those I meet whom I feel will appreciate the classy engagement it offers. And now I pass that on to you, dear readers!