While many ghost-themed films from the 1930s and 1940s tended to use the possible presence of spirits in either a comic (Topper) or deceitful (Hold That Ghost) way, Lewis Allen’s The Uninvited gave us the real McCoy: a serious vehicle in which ghosts played dramatic roles in a melancholy mystery concerning their reasons for haunting an old mansion. The film’s utter lack of camp and its adult treatment of its poltergeist problem have earned it a die hard fan base, and the film is entirely worthy of such celebration. It’s a polished movie with effective performances and sensational atmosphere for telling its ghoulish story.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English PCM 1.0 (Mono)
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 39 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD25 (single layer)
Release Date: 10/22/2013
Siblings Roderick (Ray Milland) and Pamela (Ruth Hussey) Fitzgerald see a large empty house overlooking the sea at Cornwall and simply must have it. Commander Beech (Donald Crisp), who once lived in the home, accepts a ridiculously low offer on the pretext of wanting to provide for his twenty-year old granddaughter Stella (Gail Russell), but once the Fitzgeralds move in, they see why the house was so hard for Beech to unload. The place seems haunted possibly by the ghost of Beech’s deceased daughter Mary with an upstairs gallery room ice cold to walk into and one which instantly wilts flowers and that the household pets won’t go near and intermittent crying in the dead of night. The ghost seems determined to do harm to Stella who’s been forbidden to enter the premises by her grandfather, but she disobeys him because she and Roderick are falling in love, and with Stella’s doctor (Alan Napier) and Pamela also becoming close, it becomes imperative for the riddle of the ghost to be solved.
The Production Rating: 4.5/5
Based on the novel by Dorothy Macardle, the screenplay by Dodie Smith and Frank Partos is an intriguing psychological mystery which is surprisingly adult in texture for 1944 (there’s certainly a more than implied lesbian subplot that got by the censors of the time, even more implicit than in Rebecca) and unfolds with a smooth elegance despite occasionally clunky dialogue. (Do people really repeat and repeat the names of the people they’re talking to during conversation?) Special effects are used sparingly (a lot of the spooky ambiance is conveyed by the brilliant acting of the cast), but are most impressively ethereal when they finally do make an appearance. The production design of this fabulous ghostly mansion is brilliant, and its large, dark-shrouded rooms lit only by candles and oil lamps aid immeasurably in establishing the place as one of mystery. Most effective is the séance sequence with its homemade Ouija board and the bits of information that are revealed during it (the solution to the mystery is actually contained within it for those who are clever enough to be paying attention), and Lewis Allen’s direction which had efficiently ambled during the film’s first half now begins to rev up and take flight as various plot strings begin to tie up.
Ray Milland is at his lilting best as the high-spirited composer who writes a serenade for his love (the famous “Stella by Starlight”) and grounds the picture with his determination to get to the bottom of the mystery. Gail Russell in her first really important movie role does nicely as the agitated Stella. Donald Crisp is fairly one-note as the gruff grandfather, but Ruth Hussey as the devoted sister makes a believable pairing with Milland as the two siblings work together to get to the bottom of their house’s miseries. Cornelia Otis Skinner as psychologist Miss Holloway who knows more about Stella’s mother than she’s willing to tell dominates all of her scenes. One look at the enormous painting of Mary Meredith that she has on the wall of her office silences any questions one might have about Holloway’s motives for her selective silence. Barbara Everest is delightful as the sassy maid Lizzie, and Dorothy Stickney has a memorably daffy cameo as the addled Miss Bird.
The film is presented in its theatrical 1.37:1 aspect ratio and is offered in 1080p using the AVC codec. This is a very film-like presentation with a satisfying light grain structure and wonderful sharpness through most of the presentation. The grayscale offers notably crisp whites and black levels that are generally good (but don’t quite plumb the depths of inkiness). Shadows in those darkly lit rooms are effectively ominous. There are no age-related artifacts which betray the film’s almost seventy years of existence. The film has been divided into 13 chapters.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) sound mix offers a good but not great presentation. Victor Young’s superb score is presented with excellent fidelity for the period, but it never overpowers the dialogue or eerily effective sound effects that set the atmosphere for the film so wonderfully. However, there is light to moderate hiss that can be heard in quieter moments of the movie (more in the second half) and some attenuated noise which the engineers weren’t quite able to make completely disappear.
Audio Rating: 3.5/5
Giving Up the Ghost (26:59, HD): a video essay by Michael Almereyda (with added comments by ghost expert Erin Yerby) which hits on the film’s high points and also analyzes Ray Milland’s lengthy film career with clips from Criterion’s recently issued Ministry of Fear among many other stills and poster art and Gail Russell’s sadly brief film career.
Special Features Rating: 3/5
Radio Broadcasts (29:25, 29:50). Both abbreviations of the film, the 1944 radio version stars Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey; the 1949 adaptation (the more effective of the two) also stars Milland in his movie role.
Theatrical Trailer (2:03, HD)
Twenty-Five Page Booklet: contains cast and crew lists, some stills from the movie, an analytical essay on the movie by critic Farran Smith Nehme and a 1997 interview with director Lewis Allen by author Tom Weaver.
Timeline: can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
It doesn’t have the romantic pull of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (which is essentially a romance and not a mystery), but The Uninvited is a crackerjack ghost story beautifully produced and expertly acted. Highly recommended!
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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