Sunday, 5 April 2015

April Apparitions: The Uninvited (1944)

The Uninvited (1944)
Director: Lewis Allen
Starring: Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, and Donald Crisp
Running Time: 99 min

  I don't know why it's taken me so long to see this movie again.  This along with Robert Wise's "The Haunting" and Jack Clayton's "The Innocents", in my mind, are probably the best choices when it comes to watching classic American ghost films.  However, it has been a while and maybe my tastes have changed or Criterion has added an extra scene with Ray Milland dressed as a chicken at the end that wasn't in the original cut.  If only all movies ended with a man in a chicken suit.  I digress,  but I am looking forward to visiting the Fitzgeralds and Windward House again.

  Brother and sister, Roderick and Pamela Fitzgerald and their dog, Bobby are enjoying a seaside stroll, when Bobby's attention is caught by a squirrel, which he chases it into an abandoned mansion.  Roderick and Pamela chase after their dog into the house and finally catch the poor pup barking at fireplace.  They collect their crazy dog and start wandering around and admiring the old house.  Pamela immediately falls in love with the place and suggests to Roderick that they find the owner and try to buy it.  Roderick, who is much more level headed, holds out for a few seconds before he finally caves in because he too loves the house.
  Soooo they find the owner of the house, Commander Beech, and they head over to do some impulsive house buying.  They are met at the door by a young woman in her 20's, Stella, who happens to be the Commander's granddaughter and she invites them in to wait for her grandfather in the study.  However, when she discover that they wish to buy Windward House, the seaside abandoned mansion, she lies and says that is not for sale and that her grandfather won't be back...hmm...ever.  Unfortunately, the Commander arrives just as she starts escorting the Fitzgeralds out of the study and he lets them know that the house IS for sale and he is willing to get rid of it at a fraction of what's it worth.  This throws up a red flag for the business savvy, yet impulsive Roderick and he asks why the house is so cheap.  Beech explains that their were some unusual and unexplainable disturbances with the house the last him he rented it out and that he doesn't want his granddaughter Stella anywhere near that place because that is where her mother died.  This seems reasonable with the Fitzgeralds and they buy the house, where someone died and now has unexplainable and unusual disturbances. Well done Fitzgeralds, well done.
  After the purchase, they return to the house and open the only room that was locked up tight.  Pamela laughs and says that she knew there had to be an ugly room in the house and Roderick claims it as his work space.  He has a thing for ugly rooms. However, the longer the two spend in the room the more, the gloomier and melancholy the two unknowingly become.  So Pamela agrees to leave the ugly room to her brother and his composing and they leave the room to set up moving arrangements and when they do, the melancholy lifts and things are good again.
  Before leaving for a three week job in the city, Roderick runs into Stella in town and the two of them spend the day together.  Although, Roderick knows that Stellas' grandfather doesn't want her in Windward House, he invites her over anytime to visit because he wants to spend more time with her.  After a fun day of sailing, he wishes her well and heads off to work for the next three weeks.
  When he returns, he is greeted by Pamela and learns that Bobby has run off.  That's okay because he's just a dog and Roderick has returned with his house maid and her cat.  The cat, Whiskey, doesn't like the upstairs of the house and not only does he hiss at it but refuses to go up.   The Fitzgeralds don't seem to care about the silly cat and decide to go to bed early.  Then just before dawn, Roderick is awoken by the sounds of crying.  He goes to see if Pamela is alright but discovers her at the top of the stairs at the bannister staring in the darkness below.  She tells him that this happens almost every night and that she thinks there might be a ghost in their house.  Roderick thinks that this is
preposterous idea and tells Pamela that there must be a rational explanation.   Unfortunately, over the next few days he learns that there isn't a rational explanation and on top of that he learns about the sordid affairs of Stellas' parents, a mistress named Carmen and the suicide that killed them both Carmen and Stellas' mother.  With no Ghostbusters available to call for another 40 years, can the Fitzgeralds find a way to stop these nightly haunting or are they trapped with a wailing specter for the rest of their days to come?

  This is still such an amazing movie to watch after all these years.  For director Lewis Allen (Suddenly, Unseen), this was his first full length feature and it's one of his best.  What I love about it, is that Allen focuses more on the atmosphere and tone of the film and doesn't mess around with too many jump scares.  He adds little touches like, fresh flowers wilting immediately when they come into the house or pages of a book flipping by itself to help search for the right clue.  These tiny hints of spirit activity go a long way and give the film a wonderful charm. 
  Also, Allen does unleash some ghostly specters into the film and considering the time and technology back then, these are pretty awesome looking ghosts.  Although used sparsely throughout the film, these ghostly images were added by Paramount to enhance the "supernatural presence" which they did.  Sadly, they were removed by censors when it was distributed in England.  See, this was one of the first films to portray an "actual" haunting and the ghosts weren't being used as comic relief, like in "Topper" or used as a way to hide illegal activity like in the "Cat and the Canary".  So censors had to be careful and make sure that this movie didn't scare people too badly.
  However this film isn't just scary but has some good humour in it as well.  Ray Milland (Dial M For Murder, The Thing With Two Heads), who plays Roderick, is really charming and funny in this.  Throughout the film and while Allen is continually building tension,  Milland's character eases you out in and out of moments of high tension with a witty remark or joke.  Perhaps the praise also should go to the writers as well, Dodie Smith and Frank Partos but without the talent and timing of Milland then these tension releasers could have failed easily or missed there mark.  Also, I love the end and when Milland faces off with the ghost.  It's kind of nonsensical but considering the time and his character it makes sense.  

  Overall, there isn't any real technical issues with the film but what people, nowadays, may expect for a horror film could be an issue.  Although this film is very spooky, it is not filled with violence and again there isn't a bunch of jump scares around every coner.  There are a couple of deaths but nothing terribly gruesome.  Again, this is an atmosphere driven film and like director Val Lewton films, Lewis uses mostly subtle and intriguing imagery to scare his audience.

  This is a fantastic film and still one of my overall favourite ghost movies.  It has an compelling story, carried by a brilliant cast and a gripping score by Victor Young.  So, if you're looking for an amazing classic ghost tale that will give you goosebumps and shivers down your spine, then throw this in your later and listen for the wailing sounds of the dead. 


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