I’m keeping up my trend of classy black-and-white ghost movies so you might want to straighten your monocles for 1944’s classic ghost movie The Uninvited. Like my last entry, The Innocents, The Uninvited is consistently high ranked on critics’ top horror lists and is a known favorite of Guillermo del Toro.
It’s a very different movie from today’s haunted house movie. It relies more on atmosphere and mood than on jump scares or gore. So don’t watch this expecting to be scared the way you were during Insidious. The vengeful ghost and huge creepy house actually reminded me more of The Changeling than anything else.
The movie is set in 1937 in Cornwall, England. Brother and sister Roderick Fitzgerald (Ray Milland) and Pamela Fitzgerald (Ruth Hussey) fall in love with Windward House.
They buy it for a suspiciously low price from Commander Beech (Donald Crisp). If I’ve learned anything from ghost movies and Scooby-Doo it’s to always be suspicious of real-estate deals. The only person not pleased with the deal is the Commander’s granddaughter, Stella Meredith (Gail Russel).
Stella grew up in the house and doesn’t want to lose it. Stella ends up befriending Pamela and falls in love with Roderick. By now, Pamela and Roderick have realized that something isn’t right with the house. They’re awakened by the sound of a woman crying. Their dog won’t go up the stairs. Flowers wither in what was Stella’s father’s art studio and there’s a consistent dreary feeling. Stella attributes the feelings to the ghost of her mother, Mary Meredith, who died by falling off of a cliff nearby. Is the ghost Stella’s mother or is it her father’s model and mistress, Carmel, who died shortly after her mother? They hold a seance, with Roderick hoping to resolve the issue and end Stella’s obsession with the house. Roderick is clearly controlling the glass at first but they do make contact with one of the ghosts.
Commander Beech is disturbed by his granddaughter’s obsession with the house and sends her to Miss Halloway (Cornelia Otis Skinner), a friend of Stella’s mother. It’s there that Pamela and Roderick discover the true nature of Stella’s mother and how Carmel really died. I’m revealing nothing here, not because I believe in spoiler alerts for 72-year-old movies, but because it’s fun putting the pieces of the mystery together.
There are two things that really struck me about this movie. First, was the creative use of lighting in the scenes. Second, was how pretty gay Miss Halloway’s speech about.
Windward doesn’t have electricity in the movie so there’s the opportunity for lots of dramatically lit, spooky shots.
Now, Miss Halloway’s speech about Mary Meredith. Miss Halloway runs a sanitorium and has a painting of Mary Meredith in her office. She explains, “Mary was a goddess, her skin was radiant, and that bright, bright hair…The nights we sat talking in front of that fireplace, planning our whole lives. It wasn’t flirtations and dresses we talked about. We were no silly, giggling girls. We intended to conquer the world.” It’s so reminiscent of Mrs. Danvers’ obsession with Rebecca de Winter in Rebecca. I thought it was just me with my modern sensibilities noticing this but people wrote letters to the censors when the movie first came out. Oddly, the British censors were less concerned with the gay subtext and more concerned with the incredibly vague ghost.
The movie has an odd sense of humor that’s very refreshing. I enjoyed the banter between Pamela and Roderick and think it keeps the movie grounded and from becoming melodrama. This movie is definitely worth a view if you’re in the mood for a ghost story from a different era. Plus, it’s left us with this creepy, beautiful song that was written for the movie and became a jazz standard, “Stella by Starlight.”