Peter’s Retro Rewind: The Uninvited (1944)

May 6, 2013

The Uninvited movie posterby Peter Nielsen

[Editor’s Note: Special thanks and congratulations to Peter for contributing his 100th movie review to Forgotten Flix!]

”They call them the haunted shores, these stretches of Devonshire and Cornwall and Ireland, which rear up against the westward ocean. Mists gather here… and sea fog… and eerie stories…

That’s not because there are more ghosts here than other places, mind you. It’s just that people who live here about are strangely aware of them. You see, day and night, year in, year out they listen to the pound and stir of the waves. There’s life and death in that restless sound… and eternity too. If you listen to it long enough, all your senses are sharpened. You come by strange instincts. You get to recognize a peculiar cold which is the first warning. A cold which is no mere matter of degrees Fahrenheit, but a draining of warmth from the vital centers of the living.

Loads of people tell me they would’ve felt it. Even outside that locked door. We didn’t! They can’t understand why we didn’t know what it meant when our dog wouldn’t go up those stairs. Animals see the blasted things that appear.

Well, my sister Pamela and I knew nothing about such matters. Not then we didn’t! We had the disadvantage of being Londoners, just down for a fortnight’s rest. That 10th day of May 1937 was the end of our holiday!”

Windward House

Windward House

I’m sorry for the lengthy introduction, ladies and gentlemen, but it’s such a great one that I just had to share it with you. It’s spoken in a voice-over by Roderick Fitzgerald at the start of the movie as we see dark waves crash against the cliffs. It sets up The Uninvited perfectly and is an excellent way to begin a good classic ghost-story, wouldn’t you agree? It tickles your imagination and makes you want to know more.

The siblings, Roderick and Pamela Fitzgerald, come across the beautiful, but empty Windward House while on a walk through the countryside. Their dog playfully chases a squirrel around the garden and when it escapes into the house through an open window, the dog promptly follows.

The couple enter to retrieve him, but while inside decide to have a look-around. They fall in love with the house and quickly agree to buy it if the price is right, of course. They ask around in the nearby village to find out if the empty house is for sale and, if so, who the owner is.

Playing around with this is NEVER a good idea.

Playing around with this is NEVER a good idea.

The house is owned by Commander Beech and upon arriving at his house, Roderick and Pamela are greeted by his 20-year-old granddaughter, Stella Meredith. She invites them in to wait for the Commander, but when she finds out they want to buy Windward, her mood immediately changes. The siblings think it strange, but then Stella’s grandfather arrives and they quickly decide on a fair price. Pamela and Roderick are soon the proud new owners of Windward House.

They return to the house later that day and since they now have the keys, they can finally check out the only room they couldn’t enter on their first visit. It’s on the second floor and turns out to be some kind of artist’s studio, but contrary to the rest of the house, it feels strangely cold and damp. It also gives them an eerie sense of unease. And, for some reason, their dog refuses to go upstairs, but they just shrug it off and think nothing more of it.

The next day, Roderick is to go back to London for a couple of weeks to settle their affairs and also to bring back their housekeeper, Lizzie Flynn. In the village, before leaving, he bumps into Stella who apologizes for her rude behavior the day before. The two spend a couple of hours together and he finds himself slowly falling for her. When he returns, he finds the house fully furnished and full of life, but the housekeeper’s cat also refuses to go upstairs!

Stella and Roderick in the studio.

Stella and Roderick in the studio.

During his first night in the house, Roderick is awakened by an eerie sobbing heard throughout the house. It’s from a woman and Pamela tells him this has been going on since he left. He wants to go downstairs to check where the sound is coming from and who’s making it, but she tells him she’s already done so and that there’s never anybody there.

They both have to accept the fact that their new home is a haunted one!

The Uninvited was kind of unique when it was released, in the way that it took a more serious approach to ghosts and supernatural phenomena. Before this film, it had more or less been played for laughs, so this movie was, as far as I know, the first in that regard. Sure, there are lighthearted moments here too, but when it comes to the supernatural stuff it’s dead serious. And it’s not overdone either, like in many movies of today, where they rely on special effects to be scary.

In this one, like so many of the “oldies”, the effects are more subtle and used to set the mood, so to speak. Sounds, shadows and camera angles were effective tools in that respect. I don’t want you to think I’m knocking “newer” ghost-movies, because there are some pretty scary ones floating around, but there’s just something about these classic B&W ghost-stories that I like better! Don’t ask me to explain why, because I can’t! Maybe it’s because I grew up watching them, I don’t know…

Anyway, let’s get back to The Uninvited, shall we?

Scared yet?

Scared yet?

The two siblings are played by the great Ray Milland (X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, Dial M for Murder) and Ruth Hussey (The Philadelphia Story). Commander Beech is portrayed by Donald Crisp (The Man from Laramie, How Green Was My Valley) and his granddaughter by Gail Russell (Angel and the Badman, Seven Men From Now). Hers is a tragic story and she died all too soon at the young age of 36, but I’m not going to go into that here.

One last actor I’d like to mention is Alan Napier as Dr. Scott, the man helping the Fitzgeralds investigate Windward House and its mysterious past. Those of you who’ve seen and are fans of the Batman series from the mid-to-late 1960s will recognize Mr. Napier as the butler Alfred.

The Uninvited was so popular that two 30-minute radio-adaptations were also made. One in 1944 and another in 1949. I’ve actually heard the first one, which incidentally starred both Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey reprising their roles from the movie. I’m a big fan of the old-time radio-shows from the 30s and 40s, especially the horror ones. Anyone remember Lights Out, Suspense, CBS Radio Mystery Theater, Quiet Please! or Inner Sanctum? Anyone? No?

Oh, well… I guess it’s an age-thing. Both of these radio-adaptations are actually on the newly-released DVD as extras! The Uninvited was released on VHS and Laserdisc in 1993, but didn’t get a proper DVD-release until 2012. Yeah, I know… it’s been a long wait! I’ve seen it before, but it was nice watching it again in a gorgeous-looking B&W print, and if you haven’t seen it before… What are you waiting for? Please watch it immediately! The cast is good, the sets are creepy and the movie is genuinely scary.

So, my friends… this concludes my 100th retro review for the Forgotten Flix site. Yes, that’s right! I’ve done 100 of these over the past couple of years! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them and will join me for many more in the future.

And now… Please leave any thoughts you might have on this week’s review in the comment section below!

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