Cast & Crew
Cornelia Otis Skinner
In May 1937, Londoners Roderick "Rick" Fitzgerald and his sister Pamela are at the end of their vacation on the Cornwall coast when they discover an uninhabited cliffside mansion. Drawn inside, Pamela becomes determined to buy the house and convinces composer Rick that he could live there and continue his work. When they go to see the owner, Commander Beech, his charming twenty-year-old granddaughter, Stella Meredith, insists that the mansion, called Windward House, is not for sale. Beech, however, agrees to sell after advising the Fitzgeralds that the previous residents complained of strange occurrences in the house. The next day, a shopkeeper tells Rick that years earlier, Beech's daughter, Mary Meredith, fell from the cliff in front of the house and died. When Rick then encounters Stella in the street, she apologizes for her previous behavior, and he decides to take the serious young woman sailing. During the sail, Stella distracts a seasick Rick by telling him about how her mother, Mary Meredith, who wore mimosa-scented perfume, lived at Windward for three years after Stella was born. Before he leaves for London on business, Rick asks Stella to visit Pamela at the house, but when Rick returns with his housekeeper, Lizzie Flynn, he finds out that Beech rejected Pamela's invitation to have Stella over for tea. That night, Rick is awakened by the sound of a woman sobbing, and Pamela confesses that she has heard this crying every night just before dawn. Although Stella later tells Rick that her grandfather refuses to allow her to go to Windward, she accepts Rick's dinner invitation and argues with Beech about it. After the confrontation, Beech makes an appointment with Miss Holloway, Mary Meredith's best friend, who now runs The Mary Meredith Retreat for the mentally disturbed. That night in Windward's upstairs studio, where Rick and Pamela have felt strange chills and a malevolent presence, Rick plays a serenade that he has written for Stella called "Stella by Starlight." At first, Stella is touched by the music, but when the candles flicker, she becomes obsessed with the thought that she has been cruel by enjoying herself in the house where her mother died. Stella runs out of the house toward the cliff, and Rick follows, grabbing her before she falls. Just then, Lizzie screams from inside and reports having seen a woman standing by the studio door. Stella wanders alone into the studio, and Rick later finds her lying unconscious on the floor. Rick and Pamela send for the town doctor, Dr. Scott, who treats Stella for shock and suggests that she spend the night. Scott, who met Pamela after finding her dog, stays up all night with her and Rick, and relates what he knows about the history of Windward: Mary's husband, an artist, fell in love with his Spanish gypsy model, Carmel. The affair was a public scandal, and Carmel was sent to live in Paris. The Merediths accompanied her there and returned from Europe with their baby, Stella. Soon after, Carmel followed them to Windward and died of pneumonia a week after Mary fell from the cliff, while trying to save Carmel from suicide. Just before dawn, Pamela, Rick and Scott smell the scent of mimosa in the den and find Stella out of her bed, insisting that she felt her mother's presence. Later, Rick, who has fallen in love with Stella, urges her to move to London with him, but Stella is convinced that her mother awaits her at Windward. Rick conceives of a plan to disenchant Stella from Windward by holding a séance at which Stella's "mother" will tell her to stay away. The séance calls up a real ghost, however, who transmits through an anagram the words "I guard" and "Carmel." After a glass flies from the table and smashes, Stella goes into a trance, during which she speaks fluent Spanish as a mimosa scent fills the chilled room. Beech, who has returned from his trip to see Holloway, breaks into the house and, seeing the proceedings, takes Stella home, and dismisses Dr. Scott as her physician. After Stella is sedated, Beech asks Holloway to cure her and puts his granddaughter in her custody. Rick becomes convinced that Stella will never be well until the house is purged of its ghosts, and decides to discover all the facts surrounding the death of Stella's mother. Learning about Miss Holloway from the gardener, Rick and Pamela go to see her at the retreat, unaware that Stella has been incarcerated there. Holloway tells them her version of the Meredith story: Mary, an extraordinary person, took the evil Carmen to Paris and saw her well-situated, but Carmel returned for Mary's husband. One stormy night, desperate to hurt the Merediths, Carmel picked up three-year-old Stella and raced to the edge of the cliff. After Mary struggled with Carmel and was pushed over the edge, Carmel disappeared and returned with pneumonia. Holloway grudgingly nursed her, but Carmel died. Stella, meanwhile, realizes that she has been institutionalized and grows resentful. Pamela and Rick consult with Dr. Scott, who digs up the records of the previous town physician. The records reveal that the physician suspected Holloway of criminal neglect in the death of Carmel. After Beech suffers an attack, Scott is called to his house, and gives the medical book to the Fitzgeralds. When they learn that Stella has been admitted to Holloway's retreat, Pamela calls Holloway and makes an appointment to see her that night. Holloway, in the meantime, sends Stella to Windward. When the Fitzgeralds and Dr. Scott arrive, Holloway, now completely mad, tells them that Stella is following her mother over the cliff in accordance with Mary Meredith's wishes. As the Fitzgeralds rush back to Windward, Stella arrives at the empty house and finds her grandfather dying in the studio. Beech warns her to get away from the house because it is dangerous and collapses when the vaporous form of Mary Meredith materializes by the studio door. Stella screams and runs from the house just as the Fitzgeralds pull up. As Stella reaches the cliff's edge, the earth gives way, but Rick reaches her in time. Back in the den, Dr. Scott reads through the medical records and finds an entry which confirms Carmel's pregnancy. Other entries reveal that Mary asked the physician to keep Carmel's pregnancy a secret, and that the physician, knowing that Mary feared and refused motherhood, presumed that she intended to adopt the child as hers. With all the information in place, Rick speculates that the Merediths took Carmel to Paris on the condition that she never return, and adopted Stella, but that Carmel was unable to stay away from her child. Stella recalls that when her father wrote in a journal that her mother always wore mimosa-scented perfume, she had assumed he was talking about Mary. When Rick opens the doors to the study, he senses a cold, malevolent presence, and insists that the others go outside. Rick then confronts the ghost of Mary Meredith and tells her that he is no longer frightened of her. Mary Meredith's angry ghost then permanently disappears, and the mimosa-scented ghost of Carmel, knowing that her daughter is now safe, also vanishes. With the spirits now banished from the house, Dr. Scott and Pamela plan to marry, and Rick tells Stella that he is relieved that Mary Meredith would not have been his mother-in-law.
Cornelia Otis Skinner
Ivan F. Simpson
C. C. Coleman
B. G. Desylva
Charles Lang Jr.
While on holiday, music critic Roderick Fitzgerald (Ray Milland) and his sister Pamela (Ruth Hussey) discover an abandoned mansion on the Cornish coast. With its remote yet breathtaking location on a sea cliff, Windward House completely captivates them with its possibilities; Roderick sees it as an ideal workplace where he can finally devote himself to his true love, composing music. But when they set out to purchase it from its owner Commander Beech (Donald Crisp), they encounter resistance from his granddaughter Stella Meredith (Gail Russell), who has a strong attachment to the house. It is soon learned that Stella's mother died there under mysterious circumstances. Nevertheless, the sale goes through and Roderick and Pamela move into Windward House - and almost immediately begin to experience strange occurrences. The sound of footsteps and mournful sobbing keeps them awake at night, the dog barks at something no one can see, and the overpowering scent of flowers and unexplained cold waves often permeate rooms, defying any logical explanation. Windward House is obviously haunted but why? Roderick and Pamela begin to uncover the mystery with the help of Stella whose visits to the house increase the spectral activity and place the young girl in great danger.
While it might have chilled audiences of its era, The Uninvited is not a frightening film by contemporary standards. It is, however, an intriguing mood piece, as subtle and suggestive in its imagery as the best of Val Lewton's work. Incidents that could easily appear clichéd and trite - a séance by candlelight, doors that open and close by themselves, flowers that wilt suddenly in the presence of something evil - convey a genuine sense of the otherworldly. But what makes the film unique are the atypical relationships. The siblings Roderick and Pamela appear to be successful, in their early thirties and single with no current romantic interests. Yet they have set up housekeeping together in a remote location and for all appearances live together like a happily married couple. Their celibate lifestyle, however, proves to be a key to the supernatural events that unfold in the course of the film. When the cause of the hauntings is finally revealed, it is directly linked to the dysfunctional relationship of the former owners, Mr. and Mrs. Meredith. A loveless marriage, an unrequited lesbian relationship, an extramarital affair and attempted murder have left such palpable bad karma in the house that only a healthy loving relationship can effectively exorcise it. And in the course of the film, both Roderick and Pamela find desirable mates, permanently ending the house's dreadful curse. While a Freudian reading of the film might have seemed inappropriate during the forties, it's impossible to ignore now, especially the scenes involving Miss Holloway (Cornelia Otis Skinner), the sinister rest home director, whose obsession with the former Mrs. Meredith is all too clearly spelled out. In a possible homage to the film Rebecca (1940), Skinner makes Miss Holloway as dangerously loony and frightening as Judith Anderson's Mrs. Danvers in Hitchcock's 1940 film.
Because The Uninvited was such an unusual project for Paramount, the studio was uncertain how to market it and decided to add some special effects at the last minute to exploit the film's supernatural premise. While the ectoplasmic apparitions are appropriately eerie and more subtle than any present day computer-generated effects, they were removed by the censors when the film was distributed in England and, in many cases, critics and moviegoers preferred that version because it was more suggestive and less obvious.
The Uninvited was a box office hit and also fared well with critics in the U.S., but during the Oscars® it received only one Academy Award nomination and that was for Best Cinematography (it lost to Laura). The film is also famous for introducing the song, "Stella by Starlight," which has since become a pop standard. Paramount tried to imitate the success of The Uninvited the following year with The Unseen. Although it also starred Gail Russell, it was not a ghost story but a conventional murder mystery. It was not a success despite a screenplay by Raymond Chandler and Hagar Wilde.
Producer: Charles Brackett
Director: Lewis Allen
Screenplay: Dorothy Macardle (novel), Frank Partos, Dodie Smith
Cinematography: Charles Lang
Film Editing: Doane Harrison
Art Direction: Hans Dreier, Ernst Fegte
Music: Victor Young
Cast: Ray Milland (Roderick Fitzgerald), Ruth Hussey (Pamela Fitzgerald), Donald Crisp (Commander Beech), Cornelia Otis Skinner (Miss Holloway), Dorothy Stickney (Miss Bird), Barbara Everest (Lizzie Flynn).
BW-100m. Closed captioning.
by Jeff Stafford
The Uninvited on Blu-ray
Of course, there have been signs the place is haunted... Their dog barks at nothing (which we know is something!) and refuses to go upstairs, and eventually into the house at all. One particular room, which had been the only one locked, is unusually cold and damp, and flowers wilt within seconds of being brought into it. Strange scents permeate the place. And eventually, the sounds of sobbing can be heard in the dead of night, coming "from everywhere and nowhere."
As Milland and Hussey begin to investigate the house's past inhabitants, the previous owner (Donald Crisp) and his granddaughter (Gail Russell) take on greater prominence, as do their deceased relatives. Russell in particular is constantly drawn to the house, where she lived as an infant, but the reasons for this may have evil origins and deadly consequences.
The Uninvited is impeccably made, building an atmosphere of dread even in daylight conditions, right from the haunting prologue of surf pounding the rocky shoreline as we hear Milland in voiceover setting up the story as a giant flashback. But it's when the screen goes dark that the film creates its most satisfying chills. Candlelight, flashlight, moonlight all are photographed by Charles Lang, Jr., in breathtaking high-contrast fashion, making this a movie best enjoyed in a very dark room. There are no cheap thrills here.
Director Lewis Allen, a British theater director making his first feature, works through the power of suggestion. (The inclusion of special-effect ghosts was imposed on him by Paramount, but they do not diminish the film.) He brings not just a wonderful sense of atmosphere and decor but also crisp storytelling skills -- there's simply no fat in this picture. Allen went on to direct solid film noirs like Desert Fury (1947), So Evil My Love (1948), Chicago Deadline (1949) and Suddenly (1954) before moving primarily to television.
If there are any flaws in The Uninvited, it's an occasional overplotted talkiness as Milland and Hussey learn the backstories of the other characters, but the movie is otherwise so visually alive and engaging that this is a minor quibble. Milland and Hussey give fine performances, as do Donald Crisp and Alan Napier as a town doctor, but it's nineteen-year-old Gail Russell in her starring debut who makes the biggest impression. Truly beautiful and magnetic, Russell unfortunately was so nervous and insecure about working in Hollywood that she started drinking on this picture to calm herself, and was never able to give it up. She would die at age 36. Also in the cast is playwright/actress Cornelia Otis Skinner, who takes on a role of Russell's former nanny. In many ways she is to this film as Judith Anderson's "Mrs. Danvers" was to Rebecca (1940), another movie with a prominent, scary house. Both characters have more than a hint of implied lesbianism about them and their devotion to other now-dead female characters -- a quality that did not escape notice by the Catholic Legion of Decency in 1944!
Ultimately, it's refreshing to have The Uninvited on hand again, as it's a rare ghost story told with intelligence and seriousness, a film that successfully makes the audience believe in the supernatural (at least for the duration of the film), allowing them to feel pleasurably chilled and eerily captivated. Audiences in 1944 certainly felt that way. The movie drew rave reviews and made a killing at the box office. Paramount inevitably rushed a follow-up into production, The Unseen (1945), which was in no way connected narratively to The Uninvited, but again featured a creepy, ghostly story, was directed by Lewis Allen and featured Gail Russell in the cast (as well as a script co-written by Raymond Chandler). But it was considered a disappointment, especially when compared to The Uninvited.
Criterion's Blu-ray of The Uninvited boasts a pristine 2K transfer with superb image and sound, which is especially notable considering the film has a very famous score by Victor Young that produced the classic song "Stella By Starlight." Extras include two radio adaptations of the story, featuring Ray Milland, a very interesting and well-produced 27-minute visual essay on the film and its makers by Michael Almereyda, and a booklet with an excellent essay by Farran Smith Nehme and a 1997 interview with Lewis Allen conducted by Tom Weaver. This is a classy presentation of a classy movie, and cis very highly recommended.
By Jeremy Arnold
The Uninvited on Blu-ray
Important decisions have to be made quickly.- Pamela Fitzgerald
Dorothy Macardle's novel was published in the United States under the title Uninvited. The CBCS credited Elizabeth Russell as posing for the portrait of "Mary Meredith," and Lynda Gray as the body for the portrait. Hollywood Reporter news items reported the following about the production: Veronica Lake and Helen Walker were tested for lead roles in the film. Although Gail Russell, who withdrew from the cast of Henry Aldrich Haunts a House to appear in The Uninvited, was "introduced" in this film, she made her screen debut in Paramount's 1943 film Henry Aldrich Gets Glamour. Background scenes were shot on location along the coastline near San Francisco, CA, and in Phoenix, AZ. This film marks Lewis Allen's directorial debut. Author and stage actress Cornelia Otis Skinner, who appeared briefly as herself in the 1943 film Stage Door Canteen, made her dramatic debut in The Uninvited. Charles Lang was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography. On November 18, 1946, Ray Milland performed in a radio broadcast of The Uninvited, hosted by director Lewis Allen. In 1947, Frank Sinatra made a recording of the song "Stella by Starlight," with added lyrics by composer Ned Washington, which became a popular hit.