Director – Lewis Allen, Screenplay – Frank Partos & Dodie Smith, Based on the Novel Uneasy Freehold by Dorothy Macardle, Producer – Charles Brackett, Photography (b&w) – Charles Lang, Music – Victor Young, Special Effects – Farciot Edouart, Art Direction – Hans Dreier & Ernst Fegte. Production Company – Paramount
Ray Milland (Roderick Fitzgerald), Ruth Hussey (Pamela Fitzgerald), Gail Russell (Stella Meredith), Cornelia Otis Skinner (Miss Holloway), Donald Crisp (Commander Beach), Barbara Everest (Lizzie Flynn), Alan Napier (Dr Scott)
1937. Composer and music critic Roderick Fitzgerald is holidaying in Cornwall with his sister Pamela when their dog runs into the old Wentwood House. Following it, they explore the house. When they find the house is up for sale at bargain prices, they decide to buy it. Soon after they move in they come to believe the house is haunted – cold spots, flowers that wilt in seconds, the scent of mimosa and weeping sounds that come from nowhere. Conducting seances, they dig into the house’s past, finding that the ghost is the mother of the local girl that Roderick has become involved with and how she was pushed off a cliff by her sister.
The Uninvited was Hollywood’s first serious attempt to conduct a ghost story. Even though people have the image of the haunted house as a genre that was prevalent in the 1940s, it took many years before Hollywood produced a genuine ghost story in this vein. Ghost stories were peculiarly absent during the great Golden Age of Horror 1931-9, whose monsters were almost invariably ones of science. The Uninvited was the first attempt where the ghosts were n’ot played strictly for light fantasy laughs as in The Ghost Goes West (1936) and Topper (1937) and sequels, or where the haunted house was not revealed to be mundane in nature as in The Cat and the Canary (1927) and its body of copies. The Uninvited clearly draws upon the influence of producer Val Lewton, who made classics of the era such as Cat People (1942), I Walked with a Zombie (1943) and The Seventh Victim (1943), all of which are founded in subtle ambiguous psychological horrors that could either be real or mundane in nature.
The Uninvited was not a huge success when it came out. It has since become regarded as an unrecognized classic of the era. Today it seems dated – something the Val Lewton films never do. The dialogue often comes across as stilted and unreal, as though it had been lifted straight from a dime novel. Much of the story vanishes into its own melodramatic conspiracies of genealogy. It is a talky film rather than one that generates any atmosphere.
Nevertheless, the film has a few moments of subtle atmosphere – the eerie seance scene, a haunting scene sitting at a piano where candles in the background dim as the melody changes from major key to minor. Director Lewis Allen is clearly drawing upon the influence of Lewton here, in creating subtly suggested scenes where there are no outward manifestations of the supernatural. Alas the studio, after commissioning a film in the Lewton style, developed cold feet and felt this was too subtle and optically added several ectoplasmic manifestations. (The British print and later video copies remove these). It is these latter scenes that have propelled The Uninvited to its minor classic status. However, it is surely an overrated status.