Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Favorite Film: THE UNINVITED starring Ray Milland and Gail Russell

Okay, I admit it, THE UNINVITED, based on the novel by Dorothy MacArdle and directed by Lewis Allen, is one of my all time favorite films. The older I get the more I appreciate Ray Milland at the height of his suave good looks and manner. There's just something so soothing about a film like this, even if it is a ghost story. Ruth Hussey, an actress who is usually neither here nor there, is quite wonderful as Milland's level-headed sister. The two of them make for a nicely attractive family couple.

While traveling on the English coast, Roderick and Pamela Fitzgerald - brother and sister, decide on the spur of the moment to buy a house on a windswept cliff. (Though the film is obviously shot in California.) The house has a mysterious past (uh-oh) and has been sitting empty for years. The owner is a gruff, irascible old man, Commander Beech, played by Donald Crisp - an actor who has irascible down to a science. He is strangely reluctant to sell the place but subsequently does so when offered enough money.

Ray Milland is a composer and wants a place away from the hubbub of London where he can concentrate on his work. Gail Russell plays the love interest. (Though really she is a little too young for Ray Milland, but who can blame him for falling head over heels? She is so obviously a damsel in distress.) An actress who, tragically died too young - every time I see Gail Russell I can't help but shake my head for the waste. Anyway, she is remarkably beautiful in this film playing Stella Meredith, Commander Beech's fey granddaughter. Later in the film, Ray Milland will 'compose' the song Stella By Starlight for her.

Once Milland and his sister move into the house, strange things begin happening - noises in the night, crying, that sort of thing. Their terrified little dog runs off and their housekeeper refuses to sleep in the house. And what a house it is: just gorgeous. Stylistically, the kind of movie-spooky house we all dream of. Tall windows, flowing curtains, grandfather clocks, curved grand staircase, marble floors. A perfect setting for a ghost that refuses to leave and can be heard crying nightly. A ghost whose 'aura' we see now and then in some very nice, minimal special effects. Most of that 'aura' is created by Charles Lang's shadowy camera work and expert lighting.

Turns out that Stella's mother died in the house years ago and it is, possibly, her ghost which is still hanging around the old homestead. Commander Beech forbids Stella from ever visiting the place because he suspects Stella is in danger from this ghostly apparition. Stella poo-poos this since she thinks it's her mother's ghost and how could her own mother want to hurt her?

Ray Milland wants to get to the bottom of the mystery, so he begins investigating the history of the house and its former occupants. But Commander Beech refuses to cooperate and demands that Milland stay away from his granddaughter.

In the meantime, the town doctor, played amiably by Alan Napier has found Milland and Hussey's little dog who'd run off and he, in turn, becomes friendly with Hussey who asks if the dog can stay with him until they figure out what's wrong at their house on the cliff. Napier is almost as suave as Ray Milland in this film - scholarly suave, he is simply wonderful. No wonder Ruth Hussey falls for him - who wouldn't? He always had such a gentle manner about him.

When an incident occurs in the house that puts Stella in grave danger, it is obvious the ghost means her some harm. The Commander, frantic to get her away, sends Stella to a creepy sanatorium - the sort of place they were always sending movie heroines to in the good old days. Though why Stella obeys the old man and stays in a place that would make anyone's flesh crawl is beyond me. I guess she was just too sheltered and a good, if not very bright, girl.

The sanatorium is run by Miss Holloway, a VERY creepy Cornelia Otis Skinner who makes mincemeat of her part - she is one scary woman. (I can't help but think that the movie's message here is see?, this is what happens when women become too powerful) Turns out that she was the 'nurse' who took care of Stella's mother when she was ill. Stella's mother had been the wife of an artist who'd been having an affair with his model, also in residence at the cliff house. A nice kind of menage-a-trois sort of thing. Well, you know how artists are.

Not to give the rest of the story away, but it turns out that what we think is not what it is and what we thought is not what's happening and long story, short, Cornelia Otis Skinner plays 'wretched' to the very end when she sends Stella to her apparent doom. (Reason? Weird, thwarted love.)

Will Stella be saved? Will Milland get there in time? Will that little dog ever agree to stay overnight in the house? Will the housekeeper? See the movie.


  1. This sounds good. I know I saw it years ago, but will see it again. Damsel in distress plus evil villains, how could I not?

    By the way, my day is made: Ministry of Fear (which I've been looking for) is on cable tv tonight at 8 p.m. So problem solved, that one anyway.

  2. Kathy: Be sure and let me know how you like MINISTRY OF FEAR. :)

  3. This movie sounds delightfully scary! I hope I can find it in Net Flix!

  4. I liked Ministry of Fear, but, have to see it again. I kept getting phone calls and had to deal with something.

    I like Ray Milland, but I'll have to see the whole movie through. I got the gist of it.

  5. Love this movie. After The Haunting it's my favorite ghost story. I like it because the ghost is real, it's not some made up thing explained away at the end. I love Miland and Hussey in this movie. I just saw it again the other nigh and I still have it on my DVR where I plan on keeping it for a while, at least through Halloween. Fantastic choice.

  6. My favorite haunting books are The Haunting of Hill House and The Uninvited, and the (original) movies of both of them. My guilty pleasures are the Gothic novels I read as a teenager back in the 1960s.

    By the way, Yvette, I love your posts. We have similar tastes in books and movies. I enjoy the graphics / illustrations. I think we both get some of our books at The Book Trader. Great store!

  7. Pat: For whatever reason, Netflix doesn't have it. Maybe if enough people query about it, they'll get off their duffs and buy a copy. Ha!

  8. Kathy: Not everyone is liking MINISTRY OF FEAR as much as I do. Oh well, can't appeal to everyone. I did my best. :)

  9. Ryan: I HAVE to get my hands on a dvd of this film. Don't know why I haven't done it. I used to watch it on Turner whenever it came on. But I think I'm just going to have to get a copy of my very own! Love it.

  10. Thanks so much, Joan. I'm glad you found my blog.
    I haven't seen THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE in years. Julie Harris - right? Can't remember much about it. I'll to see about watching it at some point. I've never read the book version of THE UNINVITED. Something else to add to my TBR mountain of reads. :)

  11. Don't forget Claire Bloom in that movie (The Haunting). One of the truly creepiest movies to watch in the dark. I have it on DVD and never get tired of watching it. You can skip the Catherine Zeta Jones version, pure crap.

    It's also one of my favorite books, one I've read a zillion times. Shirley Jackson can almost do no wrong in my opinion.

  12. Ryan: The truth is, Ryan, I'm not overly fond of scary movies. I love this one because it's NOT scary - at least to me. For me this film is more of a romantic/ghost story than anything else. Plus I love Ray Milland. :)

  13. I don't like a lot of the modern day scary movies, because they aren't really scary. They are more like "let's see how gross we can get with this one before people have to leave the theater". That or they are just too damn predictable.

    I like movies that can be creepy and scary without going to the limit. I like a more psychological scare. One that plays in your mind.

  14. Ryan, I'm with you. I agree completely. I can't stand all those gross-out horror crap. Give me a movie like THE UNINVITED any day of the week. :)


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