Paramount Studios called it ‘The Heart Clutching Dread of a Nameless Horror’. The Uninvited is certainly an eerie movie.
On holiday on the south west coast of England, Londoner Roderick Fitzgerald (Ray Milland) and his sister Pamela (Ruth Hussey) happen upon Windward House. Although it has not been lived in for some years, they fall for Windward’s charms and quickly decide to enquire about buying the house.
The current owner, Commander Beech (Donald Crisp) warns that strange things have happened there, but Pam and Rick are too modern thinking to be put off by suggestions of odd goings-on. They buy the house, although the deal is strongly opposed by the Commander’s granddaughter Stella (Gail Russell in her debut movie role). Windward had been the home of her mother, Mary Meredith, until she died when Stella was a child.
Later, the Fitzgeralds realize that things really do go bump in the night at Windward. It starts with their dog howling, the chilly atmosphere in the studio, and then comes the sound of a woman sobbing through the night. Candles dim, flowers wither, and a strange mist forms into a ghostly figure.
Is the house haunted by Mary Meredith, who fell to her death from the nearby cliff top? With the help of the local doctor, Pam and Rick resolve to find the answer to Windward’s mystery. They discover that Miss Holloway, a friend to Mary Meredith, and who once also lived at Windward, knows many of the house’s secrets.
Directed by Lewis Allen, The Uninvited is a study in the contrast between light and dark, sunshine and shadow, normality and eeriness. Rick and Pam are thoroughly normal, modern people who, one senses, have always belonged in the light of ordinary, everyday life. That these characters are thrown into the shadowy, haunted atmosphere of Windward brings their experience of the house’s evil into even sharper focus.
There are some surprises in the movie, but no huge or sudden shocks, as would no doubt be the case if it were made today. The disturbing quality of the movie does not depend on special effects but rather on the subtly satisfying ghostliness created by the director and put into effect by cinematographer Charles Lang.
The acting in the movie is superb, (even if the mainly American cast don’t always hit the mark with their English accents). Ray Milland, no stranger to the mystery genre, is convincing as Rick Fitzgerald, a cheerful, good natured man, suddenly thrust into a strange and frightening situation and having to find the inner strength and courage to deal with whatever may happen next. No-one in the cast over-acts; all are believable as ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. The most deliberately sinister performance is by Cornelia Otis Skinner, in one of only a handful of movie roles, as the formidable Miss Holloway.
With a screenplay by Dodie Smith and Frank Partos, The Uninvited was adapted from the novel of the same name by Dorothy McArdle, (published as Uneasy Freehold in the UK). Victor Lang composed the theme, Stella by Starlight.
Regardless of Paramount’s lurid publicity, The Uninvited is not a movie of ‘heart clutching dread’, but it is all the more effective and spine tingling because of its portrayal of a quiet, understated evil.
Made nearly seventy years ago, it remains one of my favourite supernatural mysteries.
Note: I have The Uninvited on VHS as part of my personal collection.