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.