Ellen (Dorothy McGuire) seems doomed to a life of spinsterhood. Her devoted father (Louis Calhern) keeps her company at home, and she goes out now and then, but in the realm of romance she has little hope. Fragile due to the long-term effects of a childhood illness, Ellen has resigned herself to the fact that she’ll never marry, and instead spends her time with family and friends.
Maud (Ruth Roman) and Dan (Van Johnson) are two of those friends, having known Ellen for many years. One day, Ellen runs into Dan as he’s leaving her father’s office, and offers him a ride. They begin spending more time together, and eventually, he proposes — much to Ellen’s surprise, as she always assumed Dan was in love with Maud.
A marriage is made and Ellen is happy, but are Dan’s feeling for her genuine? Maud doesn’t think so, and she’s not the type to keep such thoughts to herself.
Gottfried Reinhardt directs 1952’s Invitation, his directorial debut. The film was written for the screen by Paul Osborn from a story by Jerome Weidman.
Invitation is a bit of a slow starter, but it builds into an interesting story. A flashback to Ellen’s “spinster” days comes in around eighteen minutes into the film and things start to pick up, after a beginning which shows a bit of Ellen and Dan’s life as a married couple. Things get pretty soapy as a feud emerges between Maud and Ellen, with secrets about Dan and his decision to marry Ellen revealed along the way, but even in its soapiest moments the story is emotionally effective.
I have to give Dorothy McGuire credit for much of this emotional effectiveness. She does very well at sensitively portraying these “ugly duckling” characters, outcast by society but trying to keep a positive attitude. The Enchanted Cottage offers a similar character for McGuire, though that film has an element of fantasy and is a lot more engrossing overall than Invitation. However, in Invitation, McGuire does a fantastic job of portraying Ellen’s insecurities and fears as the film progresses, and is the driving force of the audience’s investment in the story.
Ruth Roman also has a fascinating turn here as a cruel-hearted woman who is basically waiting for Ellen to die in hopes to rekindle her own romance with Dan. I would have liked to see more of her in this film, to ramp up the level of drama during the film’s slower bits, and give it more of a complex emotional edge rather than being a straightforward tear-jerker.
Though I thought the performances were fine individually, the chemistry in cast could use a boost, particularly between Van Johnson and Dorothy McGuire. He doesn’t seem to get a lot of love, but I find Johnson to be a likable actor, and I know he can pull off romance. Miracle in the Rain, co-starring Johnson and Jane Wyman, is one of my favorite weepies! But by the end of this film, we’re supposed to believe that Dan and Ellen have genuinely fallen hard for each other, and I just wasn’t fully buying it.
Invitation is one of those films that’s a decent watch, but also a disappointment, because the potential is there for it to be such a great, lasting-impact drama. If you have a particular interest in any of the film’s underrated actors I’d recommend it, but otherwise, there are much better films to spend your time with.