Thursday, 21 July 2011

Ray Milland #5

The Uninvited (1944)

Considered by Martin Scorsese to be one of the eleven best horror films of all time, Lewis Allen’s seductively melancholic ghostly tale, The Uninvited (1944), was one of the first Hollywood films to portray a haunting as a supernatural event in a serious manner; before this, it was someething that could be explained away rationally or it was played for laughs.
Partly inspired by the success of Hitchcock’s enigmatic melodrama, Rebecca (1940) and partly by the recent group of Val Lewton’s atmospheric supernatural films, like Cat People (1941) and The Seventh Victim (1943) at RKO, and aware that the Universal horror series was past its best (four more years and Abbott and Costello would be meeting Frankenstein), Paramount were looking for a big budget ghost story hit and they found the basis in Dororthy McCardle’s Rebecca-style haunted house mystery, Uneasy Freehold, set on the south-west English coast.
Ray Milland plays London music critic and composer, Roderick Fitzgerald, who, with his sister, Pamela, moves into an old house overlooking the rocky coast of Cornwall. The owner is Commander Beech, who inherited it from his grandmother and had given it to his daughter, Mary Beech Meredith, who has since passed away. Her daughter, Stella Meredith (Gail Russell), is deeply attached to the house, against her grandfather’s wishes, and Rick begins to fall in love with her.
After moving in, the Fitzgeralds open up an artist's studio, in which a bouquet of roses wilts away and where they experience an unexplainable drop in temperature. Their dog, who had earlier refused to climb the stairs, disappears and Rick hears a woman sobbing – something that Pamela has already heard.
Stella feels a calming presence and smells mimosa, a scent she associates with her late mother; however, she becomes upset and claims her mother died cruelly. She dashes out to the cliff top from where her mother fell, but Rick saves her before she too falls – it’s as if she has been possessed!
Local doctor, Dr Scott (Alan Napier), reveals that Stella’s father had an affair with a Spanish gypsy called Carmel, who stole baby Stella and threw Mary Meredith of the cliffs, before succumbing to illness and dying.
During a séance, the ghost communicates that it is guarding Stella, who then becomes obsessed by the spirit of Carmel and she is packed off to a sanitorium by Commander Beech.
The sanitorium manager, Miss Holloway, a childhood friend and obsessive devotée of Mary Meredith, tells the Fitzgeralds how she cared for Carmel, but she died of pneumonia; however, Dr Scott tells them she died of neglect, so they set out to bring Stella back.

Realising that Dr Scott and the Fitzgeralds are on their way, Holloway sends Stella home by train, hoping that the spirit in the house will lead her to the cliff edge. When she arrives back, she refuses to listen to her grandfather’s pleas to leave, but the appearance of the spirit causes him to die of a heart attack.
Rick, Pamela, and Dr. Scott manage to arrive in time to stop Stella falling off the cliff and back in the house, a physician’s journal discovered by Dr Scott reveals that Carmel gave birth to a child, Stella, and her spirit has returned to be close to her daughter. The scent of mimosa and the sobbing had been emanating from Carmel, whose spirit has been freed by her daughter’s return. However, the jealous spirit of the spurned Mary Meredith remains to be confronted by Rick, who tells her no-one is afraid of her any longer and she finally leaves.

When Hitchcock finished filming Rebecca, producer David O. Selznick wanted the smoke from the burning Manderley to form a large letter “R”. Fortunately, the director had the last word and only filmed a burning monogrammed nightdress. With The Uninivited, Allen wanted to rely on suggestion and atmosphere, but Paramount insisted on the inclusion of several ghost shots during post-production and he was unable to stand up to the producers. The ghost’s features were puportedly modelled by actress Elizabeth Russell (no relation to Gail, but a regular in Val Lewton’s horror movies) and physical form by model and bit-player Lynda Grey. Russell also posed for the large portrait of Mary Meredith that is seen on the wall of Miss Holloway’s office in the film. Fortunately, the ghost shots were removed from the British release and critics praised its chilling atmospheric suggestion.
The superbly atmospheric cinematography by Charles Lang won the 1945 Academy Award for Black and White Cinematography.
The popular standard, Stella by Starlight, was based on the main (instrumental) theme of Victor Young’s score and helps underline the melancholy mood of the film. It wasn’t until later that Young’s collaborator, Ned Washington, added lyrics and the song became a standard.

Milland did not appear in the weak follow-up, The Unseen (1945). While it was also directed by Allen (and numbered Raymond Chandler among those who received a writing credit), it was more of a murder mystery with shades of George Cukor's recent popular film Gaslight (1944).


  1. The problem is: none of these movies are ever shown on TV anymore. It's a case of trawling DVD stores or Amazon. Shame.

  2. I think the Uninvited is out of print, as it were.

  3. I love this movie. Thanks for the terrific review and breakdown of the story and behind the scene details.

    I wrote about this on my blog a while back. IT's one way of keeping the film alive in our memories. Since it's so damn hard to find a copy. Turner Classic Movies is about the only place you might be lucky enough to see it one of these days.