Roderick (Ray Milland) and Pamela Fitzgerald (Ruth Hussey) are a brother and sister from London. They decide to purchase a house in Cornwall after stumbling upon it during a vacation and realizing that it is vacant.
It’s a beautiful and secluded place, situated atop a hill and just on the waterfront. It’s got beautiful views and plenty of room — the opposite of a cramped London flat. The price is surprisingly low, making it very easy for the siblings to afford.
The truth is, that low price has been set for a very good reason. The house comes with some extra occupants, and not of the type that an exterminator can get rid of: it’s haunted!
With the house also serving as the humble abode to a couple of beyond-the-grave occupants, the siblings get caught up in an odd situation, uncovering the mysteries of the house and its tragic past.
Lewis Allen directs 1944’s The Uninvited. The film was scripted by Dodie Smith and Frank Partos from the novel by Dorothy Macardle.
The Uninvited starts out with a pretty light mood, for a supernatural mystery. There is talk that something may be going on with the house, but nothing too serious or sinister — it’s all overpowered by the siblings’ excitement of being able to move out of London and into a beautiful estate.
The film’s mood gets more complex (at times still light, at times a lot more suspenseful) about thirty or so minutes in, when Roderick hears the sound of a woman crying inside of the house for the first time, and begins to suspect that there may be a legitimate haunting at hand.
Once it gets on its feet, The Uninvited is a film that has a lot going for it. The special effects are very good and look quite realistic (as realistic as ghostly effects can look, haha). The performances are also very nicely-executed.
I was particularly impressed by Gail Russell as Stella. I don’t believe I’ve seen her in any films other than this, though I know that her career was tragically cut short when she died at the age of just 36. She’s very good here, bringing a scarred sensitivity to the role. I can’t describe Stella much without spoiling, since she’s a very integral part of the story, but I will say that Russell gets the chance to play a wide range of emotion and she carries some of the film’s most gripping scenes.
The lovely score is another positive. Criterion’s website describes the film on the whole as “elegant and eerie” — a perfect choice of phrase that could also be used to describe the score. At times it sounds quite whimsical, and at times it helps amp up the creep factor. The film is very atmospheric, thanks in large part to the score and the excellent photography (by Charles Lang, who utilizes — you guessed it — plenty of beautiful shadows!).
I’ve heard so much raving about The Uninvited that I was a tad underwhelmed by it, but it’s still a very good watch, and I would recommend it. As an essay included on the Criterion DVD release points out, this was one of the first films to take the subject of the supernatural seriously rather than playing it off for laughs. It’s a very well-crafted film, successful in handling its subject matter with true suspense, and Gail Russell’s performance is captivating. The score: 4.5/5