An atmospheric haunted-house yarn nestled on the coast of Cornwall, Broadway workman Lewis Allen’s directorial feature debut THE UNINVITED is not a spine-tingling scare-fest one might expect it to be, but a decorous melodrama seeking out the truth about a past tragedy tinged with a tint of gothic spookiness owing to Charles Lang’s stupendous Oscar-worthy camera work through minimal torchlight and candlelight in the mansion where the London siblings Rick (Milland) and Pamela (Hussey) Fitzgerald dwell.
The mansion is called Windward House, which the siblings buy from Commander Beech (a lumpen Crisp) for a knockdown price. The Commander is very cagey about the history of the house and whose only intention is to get the pecuniary profit to secure the future for his 20-year-old granddaughter Stella Meredith (Russell), he brazenly makes it clear that they don’t want anything to do with the Fitzgeralds after the deal is cut and dried, intriguing, isn't it? It is not every day someone is offering to buy a jinxed house. But an impressionable and spontaneous Stella takes a liking for the debonair but expansive Rick, confides in him that she feels a strong yet strange connection toward the house where she has been forbidden to set her foot since she was three, when her mother fell to her death from the escarpment in front.
So, apparently it is the apparition of Mary, Stella’s mother who torments the new residents with the nightly wailing, chilling draft and pungent scent of mimosa (a clever olfactory indicator as we have to take the characters at their word), but the plot thickens when more details are disclosed: Stella’s father had a gypsy mistress Carmel, and the rumor says that it is her who murdered Stella’s mother then died of illness afterward. At this step, the ghosts become plural, the rub is whether it is Mary’s benevolent calling or Carmel’s malignant hex that draws Stella back to the place? Or, as we are all fully aware, there would be a final reveal to overturn all the previous presumptions, after the fuss of a séance and the intervention of a formal nurse, Mary’s best friend Miss Holloway (Skinner), there is something fishy about Stella’s real identity.
Not quite often a pair of siblings is put in the center of a household, Milland and Hussey make do with their rivalry-free interaction and instill a patina of sangfroid which doesn’t seem to be congruent with the mystical happenings, and willfully gives the movie a jocund vibe, if they are not spooked, how can we, armchair rubberneckers, be startled through vicariousness? Forever remembered by Victor Young’s theme strain STELLA BY STARLIGHT, afresh-faced Gail Russell is pleasant to behold, but couldn’t be bothered to register a convincing reaction after receiving the bolt from the blue, which mars this otherwise fairly sustained suspense (along with Rick’s half-hearted final smackdown with Mary’s misty specter). In fact, the best part comes from a scrumptiously scenery-chewing Cornelia Otis Skinner, flagrantly furnishes the story with the requisite venom which one cannot get enough in the genre of uncanny mysteries, which, if really is your cuppa, bearing in mind thatJack Clayton’s THE INNOCENTS (1961) is a far superior achievement to be amazed, transfixed and awe-struck.
referential points: Jack Clayton’s THE INNOCENTS (1961, 8.8/10); René Clair's I MARRIED A WITCH (1942, 5.8/10).