Monday, February 15, 2010

The Uninvited (1944)

The Uninvited is an Oscar-winning tale of ghosts and the redeeming power of love. While the viewer is spared any blood and gore, The Uninvited is one of the scariest stories of a haunting that I have ever seen. What makes it spooky is the normalcy and good cheer of the main characters, whose laughter and jests foil as well as heighten the effect of the poltergeist. As for the mansion, it is not a typical haunted house, especially after being so charmingly redocorated by the new owners. Whenever I watch the film, I am always ready to go live there, ghosts or no ghosts. According to one review:
There’s a scene in Lewis Allen’s The Uninvited where young Stella, the bright-eyed young thing at the crux of this ghost story, comments to beau Roderick Fitzgerald on a reckless car ride that being scared is, in fact, quite fun. This is completely analogous to the tone of this much-loved, and unavailable classic (one of the most demanded titles on TCM’s yet-to-be released on DVD list), a movie that gently reveals its spirits, and prefers buttoned-up chills to décolletage and spilled guts.
What’s morphed into gruesome household terror in films such as The Amityville Horror or Poltergeist, where “the uninvited” wreak hysteria and total panic, is treated with unusual level-headedness by the Fitzgeralds. Frightened but not necessarily threatened, Pamela and Roderick have a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boy approach to their home invasion, determined to solve the mystery and protect Stella (whom Roderick’s grown quite fond of). True to the period in Hollywood history, this is where The Uninvited bridges horror and comedy, keeping the mood light with humorous asides and Roderick’s song compositions (he’s a struggling musician) while orchestrating atmospheric chills; bodiless crying in the night, a dimly lit séance with a homemade spirit board, doors and windows opening or closing without human intervention.
As the Classic Movie Digest says:
The Uninvited is somewhat reminiscent of Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940), not in storyline as much as in atmosphere and character. Like Rebecca, the setting is a large stately house on the coast of England. The house is filled with the memory of it's former mistress, Mary Meredith (heck, it's filled with her very spirit, as she's the one haunting it), and there's even a creepy, dark haired mystery woman, who is unyieldingly devoted to the memory of the dead woman, such as Mrs. Danvers was in Rebecca. More than one film analyst has noted the obvious lesbian theme related to this character, Miss Holloway. It is a role that Gale Sondergaard would have excelled in.

The movie is chilling without the use of modern special effects, though the one camera trick that is used, the spectre of Mary Meredith, is very effective. The atmosphere is instead achieved through expert black and white cinematography by Charles Lang, whose masterful use of light and shadow earned him an Oscar nomination. Also a top asset for the film was it's haunting, romantic score by Paramount's resident composer, Victor Young, which includes the lovely tune Stella by Starlight.
Stella is abnormally obsessed with her dead mother. In the end, however, she is delivered. I love the Irish Catholic housekeeper, who after the creepy séance scene roundly scolds the characters about the dangers of the ouija board, calling it a "heathen instrument made to call devils out of hell." Her words are all too true.


Julygirl said...

This is a new one to me. Will have to find it in the Video store. Thanks for the review, I always liked Ray Miland, particularly in Hitchcock's (?) "Dial M For Murder".

Julie D. said...

I plan on watching the movie just as soon as I'm done podcasting the book. We're just three chapters from the end. It was a favorite of mine since high school and I never felt like replacing the pictures in my head with those from the movie.

I invite those who want those pictures in their head to come on over. Likewise, I was already leaning on watching the movie. Your post was serendipitous ... and I will take your advice. :-)

elena maria vidal said...

What a coincidence! They showed the film on TCM last week. I have not read the book. Thank you for the recommendation, Julie.

Brantigny said...

This is one of the all time classic films. I never try to miss it. I love the smell of mimosa.

elena maria vidal said...

I love mimosa, too. We had two huge mimosa trees in our backyard when I was growing up.