I remember the first time I saw Lewis Allen’s excellent 1944 ghost story The Uninvited – I was a young kid, around 10, I watched it on VHS and it scared the shit out of me. Other than The Spiral Staircase (which scared me more than any other film ever, with the possible exception of Jaws, but that had extenuating circumstances…) I was so unsettled even long after the credits rolled. And while the memory of that fear kept me from rewatching The Spiral Staircase until after college, I didn’t have the choice to rewatch The Uninvited – the movie vanished and was only available overseas. It’s a crime that it took this long for such a quality film to make its way to the States, but I am so glad that it did.
The story of The Uninvited (based on Dorothy Macardle’s novel “Uneasy Freehold”) starts in 1937, when London composer/music critic Roderick “Rick” Fitzgerald (Ray Milland, Dial M for Murder, The Premature Burial) and his sister Pamela (Ruth Hussey, The Philadelphia Story) fall in love with Windward House, an abandoned seaside house. They purchase it for an unusually low price from Commander Beech (Donald Crisp).
Rick and Pamela meet Beech’s 20-year-old granddaughter, Stella Meredith (Gail Russell), who lives with her grandfather a nearby town. Despite the fact that her mother died within its confines and her grandfather forbids her to enter it, Stella is deeply attached to the house and the sale of it upsets her greatly. However, when Rick begins to fall for her, she finds her way into Windward House.
The Fitzgeralds’ are initially excited by the house and enjoy exploring all its nooks and crannies. But it doesn’t take long to ruin their joy when they find an artist’s studio that’s much colder than the rest of the house and hear the heart-wrenching sobs of an unseen woman. Though skeptical at first, Rick and Pamela soon accept that Windward House is haunted.
I won’t reveal any more of the plot here, I want you to experience it for yourself. What makes The Uninvited so different from the other ghost movies of its era is that it’s among the first Hollywood movies to show a haunting a supernatural event. In this era ghosts were usually played for comedy or as misdirection for very human crimes. Director Allen chooses to bring the ghosts out into the light – Pamela and Rick meet the ghost(s) head on. There’s no doubt that the house is haunted. It was an innovative choice for that time, and it still works today.
The Uninvited retains the beautiful long shadows and dark contrast lighting common to the films of that era – DP Charles Lang was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Black and White Lighting in 1945. Also much like the films of that period, the gore is essentially nonexistent. But that doesn’t lessen the beauty or the quality of the film in any way.
I can’t overstate how excited I am that everyone can finally see this film! And with Criterion behind the DVD and Blu-ray release, what a way to see it for the first time – or even the 10th time! You need to see this movie, and you need to see it now. You won’t be disappointed.