Unreal Estate

It’s very nice that THE UNINVITED has a commercial release (there was a VHS for sale in the US, which I bought, but this is its first appearance since) — it’s a rather lovely 1940s ghost story, perfectly blending the coziness and chills we demand from that genre.

Struggling composer Ray Milland and his sister Ruth Hussey (and their little dog, too) fall in love with a deserted clifftop residence on the Cornish coast (whose landscape in no way resembles that of Southern California, as Austin Powers once helpfully noted). Soon, ghostly sounds and apparitions are detected, and a tragic backstory connects the hauntings to young Gail Russell, with whom Ray becomes smitten.

Dodie Smith, of 101 Dalmations fame, co-scripted with Frank Partos, and there’s consequently some good business for Bobby the terrier (named after Greyfriar’s Bobby, no doubt). The film benefits from sleek Paramount production values, including regular Billy Wilder collaborator Doane Harrison’s nimble cutting (quick-shuffled reaction shots build anticipation for each spectral manifestation) — the generation of suspense mainly comes from this, the moody lighting of Charles Lang, and the performances, which find varied and often witty ways to suggest terror, which is then hopefully picked up and mirrored by the viewer.

My, Gail Russell was a lovely girl. Even if she seems to share a dialogue coach with Jennifer Jones’ CLUNY BROWN — she has intermittent bursts of strangulated poshness, and the rest of the time just plays it American — she’s a delight. I think her wide, shiny eyes had as much to do with Stella by Starlight becoming the film’s hit song, as the Victor Young melody itself. The two together are a lovely combo.

THE UNSEEN still lacks a home vid release. It shares with THE UNINVITED the talented journeyman director Lewis Allen, frightened girl Gail Russell, editor Harrison, and the syllable “UN”. But, despite Raymond Chandler co-scripting, it’s not quite as successful. Essentially a GASLIGHT-type thriller, it does gain in uncanny-ness via the prominent role given to children (cute Nona Griffith and Richard Lyon, son of Bebe Daniels). When they describe a man without a face who lives in an empty house, there’s a delicious supernatural/surreal undertone, sadly dissipated by the rest of the narrative.

Chandler ensures that the bit players all make their mark, and everybody in the film is interesting, but I don’t think audiences then or now would be greatly surprised by the climactic revelations. However, an official release or TCM rediscovery would be nice, so we could properly appreciate the great John Seitz’s cinematography.

The Uninvited 1944 DVD Ray Milland & Ruth Hussey (Import) NTSC

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11 Responses to “Unreal Estate”

  1. The only thing that bothers me about The Uninvited is the queezy undertone of mysogyny that manifests itself (along with a rather magnificent spectre) at the end. Those who’ve seen the film will know what I’m talking about and those who haven’t…..well I’ll let you discover it for yourself.

  2. I wonder if Dodie Smith had a problem with lesbians, or if she regarded the maternal impulse as the only essential trait in women? Or has this been shoehorned in by the male writer? DS certainly created a memorable female monster in Cruella DeVille…

  3. As Dodie Smith had many gay male firnds (including Noward and Christopher Isherwood) I doubt she had any qualms about lesbians.

    The Uninvited, BTW, was directed by Lewis Allen — the non-auteur of my beloved Desert Fury

  4. Noel Coward (More Coffee!)

  5. “Noward” is a very good contraction, though! Sort of like “No awards” or something.

    Lewis Allen strikes me as a really good journeyman director, and a good channel of the Paramount house style while he was there. My favourite of his is So Evil My Love.

  6. Clare Cook Says:

    I love the Uninvited. The first time I saw it just blew me away. I watch it just about every year. Funny about the cold room. That house on the coast of England would be freezing in June anyway. I thought they got the lesbian opcession part across very well. Who else but Sondeguard could scare you while talking nicely? Just her smile would do it.
    The 5 year old across the street is named Stella. I should ask if they have seen this movie.

  7. Sondergaard had a genius for understated creepiness. Her first appearance in Christmas Holiday, you KNOW something’s very wrong. It appears to be part of her essence rather than something she’s playing, but I’m sure it’s just very subtle acting.

  8. Clare Cook Says:

    I was shocked tp learn during the Red Scare that she had young children. Her husband went to jail for being a Commie. You know the kind that live in mansions. Her career was ruined. Her next job was on It Takes a Thief and she was very old. Still it’s hard to picture her as a loving mother. Maybe she let all the bad out at work. She was divne in the Spider Woman, a Sherlock Holmes film.

  9. The actors who play villains are often really nice people, just as the ones regularly cast as staunch heroes frequently hide a dark side…

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