Friday Forgotten Film – The Uninvited (1944)
“That’s not because there are most ghosts here then 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.”
As a rule, I’ll watch some or all of a decent movie again if replayed on network or cable television. That is, if I’m channel-surfing and not pressed for time. So-so or terrible films don’t get repeat showings, ever, in my home. I avoid them like the plague (e.g., Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen). Now, the truly great ones I’ll see again and again — this is something that generally causes my wife’s eyes to roll, btw. However, there are a small handful of films, which certainly qualify as great, but go into a different category.
That is, I’d only seen them once due to circumstances beyond my control. Meaning, no studio had released them for home viewing. Though rectified by the Criterion Collection only a few years ago in October 2013, the 1944 British ghost story, The Uninvited, qualifies nicely on these terms. In my mind, this film is one of those “haunted” stories that once were so original and plentiful way back in the day, but aren’t anymore. At least James Wan has us back on the right track with the likes of “The Conjuring.”
Don’t count the U.S. studio trend of remaking Asian ghost stories as anywhere close to inventive, either…and why I suggest Ju-on to friends instead of “The Grudge.”
The Uninvited — not to be confused with the 2009 film of the same name, itself an American remake of the South Korean Janghwa, Hongryeon film, aka A Tale of Two Sisters — starred Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp, Gail Russell, and the venerable Alan Napier. Who, if you’re old enough, will recognize as Alfred from the 60’s Batman TV series. It told the tale of a brother and sister, portrayed by Milland and Hussey, who buy a house on the Cornish seacoast only to find that it’s very much of the cursed variety.
Incidentally, outside of the moors, locating this story, and manor, at the very edge of a foggy cliff side remains a perfect setting for a yarn such as this. Essentially, ghost stories are mystery thrillers. This type of story is why they resonate more broadly with people who usually aren’t into the horror genre. Those normally not into the more chilling works of H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, or Stephen King are more apt to manage their way through and enjoy a classic ghost story than the other ilk.
Explains why a superb crime/mystery writer like Michael Koryta could effortlessly swing over to the supernatural a few years back with, So Cold the River (a recommended read, if Jen and I say so), and horrormeister King over to Koryta’s realm with Mr. Mercedes, and never skip a beat with their readers.
As a kid I watched this Lewis Allen-directed film sometime in the late-’60s on a black & white TV during one afternoon at mi abuelita‘s house. It scared and thrilled me to no end, all the while gluing me to the set that day. Reluctant to turn away. The Uninvited endures as an atmospheric turn from start to end, putting it mildly. Enough that the odd slew of daylight scenes onscreen, or even those just outside grandma’s window, gave little relief. So enthralled was I with the goings on at the Windward House.
Moreover, its well-plotted and clever story accompanied by a great cast that performed splendidly. Based on the novel by Dorothy Macardle and adapted by Dodie Smith and Frank Partos, the film had another distinct plot twist: the protagonists being siblings rather than the customary lovers of yesteryear. Less Marion and George Kerby (Topper 1937) or even The Thin Man‘s Nick and Nora, and more toward Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events sibs. A wonderful dynamic on its own, yet with room for passion.
That, extruded via “…a bizarre romantic triangle from beyond the grave” when Milland’s character starts falling for the previous owner’s daughter who lives nearby with her grandfather.
“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…”
I believe it’s one of the best ghost stories ever put on celluloid, along with classics like The Innocents, The Haunting, and The Changeling. However, as opposed to those I’ve just mentioned, director Lewis Allen’s best, which also was his debut film, languished without a release to disc for decades1. Oh, there is a VHS tape version out there, but it was pricey, even if you still had the old equipment on hand to play it. Unless broadcast on television, few had the chance to enjoy it as I had.
Essentially why I’d only seen the film once for almost fifty years. If it played on the TCM or AMC networks, I kept missing it, to my everlasting chagrin. Luckily, till the good folk over at Criterion corrected the oversight, I’d only have a certain local auteur to thank. The New Beverly Cinema, the Los Angeles revival movie theater director Quentin Tarantino saved and now owns, screened The Uninvited, along with The Haunting back in 2010, using a new 35mm print for this occasion.
From the New Beverly web site:
Plainly, why I couldn’t and didn’t miss the then rare opportunity to attend such a presentation as this. While both films were vintage, this pair of spine-chillers among the best in the haunted house genre for viewers, even during summer, to unravel. They endure in a class of their own. That said, the revival granted moi a chance to watch this forgotten gem of a film and feel it creep inside my thoughts once more. And perhaps, shutter anew as the dark shadows enveloped my imagination as it had in my youth.
- Prior to Criterion’s release, “The Uninvited” only existed on Region 2 PAL DVDs from Italy and the United Kingdom. ↩
8 Responses to “Friday Forgotten Film – The Uninvited (1944)”
I’ve never been a big horror fan and certainly not of the modern gore contest variety. I tend to venture not a lot further than classic Universal and Hammer material, or the like of Val Lewton’s 60 minute chillers. Those latter titles maybe come closest to The Uninvited in style.
I found it very enjoyable and the atmosphere is rather wonderful.
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Oh, yes. ‘The Uninvited’ has a wonderful atmosphere envelopes with the best of them. Thanks for chiming in, Colin. Much appreciated. 🙂
Hey Michael! I’m not familiar w/ this film at all but fascinating stuff. Nice bit of trivia too about it being in Scorsese’s list of films that scared him.
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It’s a great, ghostly mystery to experience and unravel, Ruth. I hope you get a chance to view it someday. Many thanks. 🙂
It’s so great to read stuff like this. I was going to say something about not letting films get forgotten and of course you beat me to it right in your title.
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Thank you very kindly, Jay. 🙂
Sold. I’ve never heard of this one but I’ve been checking out classic old Hollywood stuff in recent years and this looks like a corker. Will be giving it a go very soon!
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It’s a fine one, all right. Read your review, too. Thanks so much, Rodney. 🙂