Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Uninvited (1944)

Look beyond the "tea and crumpets, and stiff upper lips all round" oh-so-Britishness of The Uninvited and it's easy to see why so many people look upon it as a bit of a classic horror. But look straight AT that layer of Britishness and it's all too easy to see why it's sometimes forgotten.

This is a supernatural mystery thriller, the kind that makes for a nice tale beside a roaring fire (indeed, the protagonists start off viewing events this way - with curiosity and excitement), but it doesn't skimp on the scares, especially during a couple of cracking set-pieces that hold up as spooky delights all these years later.

Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey play Roderick and Pamela Fitzgerald, a brother and sister who fall in love with a house that sits on the coast of Cornwall. They find the owner, Commander Beech (Donald Crisp), and eventually manage to bag the house for a bargain price. They also receiving a warning. The house may be haunted, according to some. Roderick and Pamela find this idea quite charming, but only until the presence in the house starts to make itself known in increasingly unpleasant, and dangerous, ways.

Based on the novel "Uneasy Freehold" by Dorothy Macardle, The Uninvited was adapted into screenplay form by Dodie Smith and Frank Partos, and directed by Lewis Allen. While I can't say how near or far the end result is from the source material, I can say that everyone involved has crafted a fine piece of work. It's not perfect, mainly due to the light tone that persists for a bit longer than it should in the first half of the movie, but it oozes quality, from the enjoyable unfolding of the plot to the impressive special effects.

Milland and Hussey are both good in their roles, easygoing and believable while dealing with supernatural events in a very grounded way. Gail Russell is the other main player, portraying a young woman, Stella, who happens to be the granddaughter of Beech and connected to the presence in the haunted house. She comes across as a sweet girl, one that Milland takes a shine to, and also serves to show the other main characters just how dangerous the house can be. Crisp, Dorothy Stickney, Alan Napier and Cornelia Otis Skinner all do their bit to help the proceedings along, with the latter two playing doctors looking at the central problem from two opposing viewpoints.

This would make a nice companion piece to The Haunting or The Innocents, despite the fact that it's not quite as good as either of those movies. Heck, put all three together and treat yourself to a triple-bill of classy chills (no, I didn't mean that to rhyme). The Uninvited is more playful, almost encouraging viewers to be one step ahead as the third act provides its main revelations, but that imbues the whole thing with the feeling of an old-fashioned parlour game, in between the moments that raise goosebumps. Which isn't the worst thing for a horror movie to emulate.


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