Exposure Cinema // 1944 // 94 Minutes // Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // October 30th, 2012
"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..."
Selected by no less than Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas) as his third-favorite horror film of all time, The Uninvited finally comes to DVD as The Uninvited (Region 2), thanks to Exposure Cinema, a small U.K. distributor specializing in the release of classic and cult films.
Brother and sister Roderick (Ray Milland, The Lost Weekend) and Pamela Fitzgerald (Ruth Hussey, The Philadelphia Story) opt to leave behind the hustle and bustle of London when they fall in love with an old house they stumble upon whilst visiting the Cornish coast.
Quickly making an appointment with the house's current owner, Commander Beech (Donald Crisp), the Fitzgerald's are pleasantly surprised to find their initial offer accepted so readily. Before completing the deal, Commander Beech feels duty bound to advise the siblings that his previous tenants left the dwelling following strange "disturbances." Unconcerned, the Fitzgerald's move into their new home and begin to get accustomed to their new surroundings.
However, it isn't long before strange goings-on force the brother and sister to reconsider Commander Beech's warning regarding the disturbances that plagued the previous tenants.
1944's The Uninvited, based on the novel Uneasy Freehold by author Dorothy Macardle, sees director Lewis Allen (who would go on to work on a host of classic TV series, including Mission: Impossible and The Fugitive) blend several genres to deliver a quite unique ghost story.
Now, it should be pointed out very early on that although there is a hint of horror, particularly during the film's final act, The Uninvited is first and foremost a mystery, with a touch of romance thrown in for good measure. Certainly by modern standards, the film is an odd proposition, with a first act that seems more interested in presenting itself as a romantic comedy. Actor Ray Milland clearly revels in the lighthearted banter he shares with leading ladies Ruth Hussey and Gail Russell during the film's opening half-hour, even if there is a nagging feeling that all the tomfoolery is stopping the story from progressing. With the pacing kept slow, less-patient viewers will almost certainly become agitated by the lack of any spooky goings-on, but those with a little patience and a keen eye will be rewarded by hints of the sinister forces that will soon come into play.
Initially, the supernatural phenomena are played mostly for laughs, as the family dog refuses to go upstairs or a strange noise puts the willies up Milland's Roderick Fitzgerald. However, gradual changes in tone sees the The Uninvited become an effective chiller, as first becomes clear when Roderick and his sister Pamela are awoken by the haunting sound of a woman crying that seems to be emanating from downstairs. Director Lewis shows brilliant restraint during this sequence. Rather than having the siblings search for the source of the sobbing, Lewis instead opts to have the brother and sister stay where they are, which unquestionably works in the film's favor by playing on the fear of the unknown. Even then, the film never really enters full-blown horror territory. Rather than unleash scene after scene of ghostly occurrences, The Uninvited moves into mystery mode, as Roderick and Pamela endeavor to find the cause of the paranormal activity that troubles them, and which seems to revolve around Stella Meredith, the beautiful but troubled young lady whose past seems to be in some way linked to their new house.
The assembled cast is first-rate. Ray Milland is equally comfortable (not to mention effective) whether delivering the more lighthearted moments or helping to sell the more overtly horror-infused scenes. Ruth Hussey, who plays Roderick's sister Pamela, matches Milland stride for stride. Standing out, however, is Gail Russell, who delivers a haunting performance as the troubled Stella Meredith. Russell really sells the innocence of her character, while also hinting at something darker within. The supporting cast, which includes Alan Napier (Batman: The Movie), Donald Crisp (National Velvet), and Cornelia Otis Skinner, ensures class runs throughout the production.
Exposure Cinema has put together a good package for this The Uninvited (Region 2) release, which is headlined by a 1.33:1 transfer that proves extremely pleasing -- especially when considering the film's age. Though there is evidence of damage to the print, what really stands out is the sharpness of the picture (though softness does occasionally creep in) and the surprising amount of detail. The black-and-white picture contains a fine layer of grain, and possesses good black levels. The mono soundtrack sports clear dialogue, while the film's atmospheric score is also delivered with aplomb. Extras are limited, though -- again taking into account the film's age -- not bad at all. Two radio adaptations, both of which star leading man Ray Milland, are available. While nowhere near as entertaining as the film, they do offer an interesting insight into a different age when film lovers didn't have unlimited access to their favorite movies and thus had to rely on such adaptations to relive the experience. A selection of film stills and photo galleries is also included on the DVD, along with the film's theatrical trailer. Last, but certainly not least, is a twenty-four-page booklet that can be found inside the DVD case. Containing essays on the film, as well as star man Ray Milland and artwork that includes original posters for The Uninvited, the booklet holds an excellent array of information.
Though unlikely to cause nightmares for audiences accustomed to the sensory assault of Paranormal Activity and its ilk, The Uninvited still proves to be an effective little chiller. The mix of genres -- particularly the mystery element of the story -- help keep interest levels high, and with top-drawer performances all around, you could do a lot worse than check out The Uninvited (Region 2).
Review content copyright © 2012 Paul Pritchard; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Exposure Cinema
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 1944
MPAA Rating: Rated
* Radio Adaptations
* Photo Galleries