Directed by Lewis Allen (The Unseen 1945, So Evil My Love 1948, Chicago Deadline 1949) with a screenplay by Dodie Smith and Frank Patros based on the novel Uneasy Freehold by Dorothy Macardle.
The Uninvited is an extraordinarily superior ghost story (four years earlier Paramount released The Ghost Breakers comedy with Bob Hope) about a composer Ray Milland as Rick Fitzgerald and his sister Pamela (Ruth Hussey) who wander from their London flat and stumble onto a quaint estate on a cliff purported to be haunted. An estate that has lay unoccupied for twenty years. Their little dog Bobby chases a squirrel into the house and when they follow after him, they fall immediately in love with the place. Rick and Pamela are carefree siblings who take life as it comes, Rick is more cynical and Pamela believes that “Life is not that cruel!”
They discover that the reason they are able to buy this Gothic Cornish seacoast mansion for such a reasonable price of 1200 pounds is that its owner Commander Beech (the wonderful Oscar-winning character actor Donald Crisp)wants to rid himself of the tragic past attached to the place and protect his granddaughter Stella Meredith(Gail Russell)from its evil legacy. Cornelia Otis Skinner plays a sinister character, Miss Holloway who is obviously obsessed with the late Mary Meredith (Stella’s mother) a la Mrs. Danvers, whose sanitarium is scarier than the haunted house which is inhabited by two ghosts, one benevolent and the other evil.
The Commander is all too eager to rid himself of the house that holds too many dark family secrets. He worries that his granddaughter “suffers with a general delicacy; she is not strong enough to make new friends. Stella is not going back inside that home.” Rick replies “Great Scott, you really believe the place is haunted!”
One of the most haunting qualities about the film is the premiere performance by the broodingly beautiful Gail Russell, portraying the sadly reflective Stella who is inevitably and eternally drawn to the house she spent her first three years in. The house represents all connections and memories of her mother who fell off the cliffs outside Windcliff. “She lived there for three years, my years… I love that house. It’s not right to hate it because somebody died there.”
Rick falls for the beautiful Stella, composing the exquisite melody Stella By Starlight written by Victor Young.
There are some wonderful scenes, with eerie mechanisms that work well to create a chilling and atmospheric moodiness. A flower that wilts by the touch of a cold unseen presence, the inextricable smell of mimosa, shadows, and candle-lit rooms, the family dog that runs away and the cat who refuses to go upstairs, and the nocturnal crying, uncanny mists, and a spooky séance. Paramount insisted on using shots of ectoplasmic manifestations of disembodied spirits, swirling luminous clouds that hint at the feminine form — in order to market the film as more of a commercial ghost story, informing the audience that these were real ghosts and not implied imaginary shivers. With the exception of The Haunting, Curse of the Cat People, The Innocents based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, and Dead of Night, the Hollywood true ghost story is quite rare and specialized, where the actual ghosts may be nightmarish, malevolent and sinister. And while The Uninvited is not as menacing as the other films, there is a sweetly romantic quality that earns its place among them.
Lewis Allen’s The Uninvited is a story of relationships, some healthy and others quite twisted. The mood is set by the voice-over-narrative beginning the movie juxtaposed to the visual display of wildly frolicking waves crashing over the rocky Cornwall shore reinforcing this haunting narrative: we are told of “haunted shores… mists gather, sea fog, eerie stories” Once we listen to the pound and stir of waves, all senses are sharpened” which will prepare us for the “peculiar cold, which is the first warning.” a cold which is “a draining of warmth from the vital centers of living.” – Gary J. Svehla Cinematic Hauntings.