The Uninvited (1944)
While I normally associate the name of Oscar winning writer Charles Brackett with the career of Billy Wilder, this time out Brackett serves as an associate producer on The Uninvited. An absolute classic ghost story at a time when Hollywood was either producing outright monster rally’s at Universal or eerie thrillers at RKO under Val Lewton’s guidance. Just one year shy of an Oscar for Brackett’s script, The Lost Weekend, Ray Milland takes the lead role here in this Lewis Allen directed tale of a lost soul haunting Winwood House, the estate that Milland and sister Ruth Hussey will come into possession of.
A seaside England community is the setting for our very classy take on the spiritual world. It’s here that Milland and Hussey are vacationing and will come across the Winwood House that captivates them with it’s look and ocean side location. It’s seclusion should work wonders for Ray the writer. Next up the pair meet the owner of the house, Donald Crisp, who admittedly sells it at far less than market value telling the pair the previous tenants complained of disturbances. His grand daughter, the stunning Gail Russell, doesn’t want the house sold as it was her Mother’s who we will learn died tragically leaping off the seaside cliffs to her death.
Cue the cries of a woman in the darkness that haunt the new owners. The sobbing goes on through the nights before subsiding as the sun rises. Milland hopes to gather historical facts from Crisp but is sternly turned away and when Miss Russell shows an interest in the older Milland, Crisp voices his opinion that under no circumstances is his grand daughter allowed at Winwood House. The mystery begins to thicken and a local doctor, the good natured Alan Napier, is called in to assist with discovering just who is the crying ghost.
Family skeletons, a room with an eerie coldness to it, the smell of flowers, a séance and Gail firmly believing that the spirit belongs to her dead Mother are in store for the viewers before the mystery is unraveled and spirits are put to rest. Perhaps there might even be romance in the air for not only Milland but Napier as well.
For those who haven’t seen this classic black and white ghost story, there’s plenty I’ve left out as I don’t want to play spoiler and ruin the fun and anticipation of what lays ahead as Milland and company set out to discover what’s behind the haunting of Winwood House. Ray was in his prime years as a leading man at this point under the Paramount banner and would win his Oscar for The Long Weekend in 1945. It’s also a precursor of sorts in Ray’s career as he’d move into the horror genre later on in his senior years in films for Roger Corman like The Premature Burial, team with Peter Cushing in The Uncanny and star in one of the great laughers, The Thing With Two Heads as a bigoted scientist who gets more than he bargained for with Rosey Grier as a co-star.
Gail Russell gets the “introducing” treatment though she had a couple minor credits to her name previously. She’d have an all too short career passing at aged 36 in 1961. One of her costars in The Uninvited was Cornelia Otis Skinner in a creepy role that professors of film study will be sure to point out a sexual deviancy in her portrayal. Way too deep for yours truly but I think I can see what they’re getting at. The interesting twist of trivia here is that Miss Gail would actually portray Miss Skinner in her next film, Our Hearts Were Young and Gay which was scripted from Skinner’s own book recounting her 1923 tour of Europe as a young lady. This was also courtesy of Paramount and director Allen working with Gail on the second straight project. The Uninvited was the first film to be directed by Allen making for an impressive debut that would see him move on to some Alan Ladd Noirs before settling into television during the latter part of his career.
Donald Crisp who by this time was one of Hollywood’s great character players adds that extra touch of class to the proceedings having just recently won an Oscar himself for his work on the John Ford classic, How Green Was My Valley. So as Crisp will point out in the film, “Be afraid for heaven’s sake.” and give this one a definite look. Thankfully it can be found on blu ray and DVD through the Criterion Collection.