Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Scent of Mimosa Signals Ghostly Doings in "The Uninvited"

What makes a good ghost story?

1. A great setting.
2. An interesting back story.
3. Unusual happenstances.
4. An intriguing score.
5. Effective use of light and shadow.
6. A possible ethereal presence.

All of these criteria are on display in the 1944 ghost tale The Uninvited.

While vacationing along the coast of England, a composer (Ray Milland) and his sister (Ruth Hussey) discover a beautiful house located next to the sea, appropriately named Windward. They decide impulsively to purchase it, even though their terrier Bobby refuses to climb the stairs. (People would be so much wiser if they would take cues from their pets.) Bobby soon leaves, realizing that their presence in the house is “uninvited.”

Windward's previous owner (Donald Crisp) is cold and curious His granddaughter, Stella Meredith (Gail Russell), lives with him because her mother is dead. Stella is horribly upset to learn that the house has been sold. Her grandfather had forbidden her to go to the house, but the new owners welcome her warmly.

The house contains an artist’s studio which is decidedly colder than any of its other rooms. There is an occasional sudden smell of mimosa, and it is sometimes very strong. But it is the sound of a woman sobbing uncontrollably in the wee hours of the night that truly lets us know there is a mystery afoot. But is there really a ghost? And if so, who is she and what does she want?

The Uninvited relies heavily on music and visuals to create its haunting atmosphere. Victor Young composed the score, which features the lovely “Stella by Starlight” theme. His 220 film credits include Scaramouche, The Quiet Man, and The Blue Dahlia.

The cinematography is capably filmed through the lens of Charles Lang, Jr. who was also responsible for The Cat and the Canary, The Ghost Breakers, and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. The IMDb reports that Leon Shamroy and Lang were nominated 18 times for Academy Awards. Shamroy won four times but Lang only once.

The cast features Alan Napier as a doctor. Napier had a long, successful film career, but is best remembered for playing the very reliable butler Alfred to Batman in the 1960s TV series.

One of the scariest characters of the movie is Miss Holloway (Cornelia Otis Skinner), who is unfortunately in charge of a sanitorium named for Stella’s mother, Mary, for whom she has an unnatural affection reminiscent of Mrs. Danvers to Rebecca.

Most of the performers are solid except for Gail Russell. The Uninvited is not a masterpiece, but it has all of the elements needed to make it a recommended viewing for those who enjoy a good ghost story.


  1. It's been a long while since I've seen this movie, but I remember the strong performances and especially the crisp cinematography. I completely agree with your six points to a good ghost story, and as you said, THE UNINVITED hits on all of those. Perhaps a 7th one could be "Perturbed and paranoid pets." Thanks, toto, for an excellent write-up!

  2. Thank you, toto, for this great post! The Uninvited is definitely one of my favorite classic ghost stories. And thanks too for mentioning Charles Lang and Victor Young, without whose talents this movie would not have been nearly as good.

    I plan to find our copy and watch it again soon!

  3. Toto, I don't recall ever watching this. Your description reminds me a lot of the original The Haunting, though. Good review.

  4. Toto, I love your six elements for a great ghost story (plus Sark's No. 8). I concur on all of them! The two things I love most about THE UNINVITED are the wonderful coastal setting and the fact that it's a flat-out ghost story. While I admire some movies where it's unclear whether the ghosts are real (e.g., CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE, THE INNOCENTS). it's entertaining to watch a good old-fashioned, non-comedic ghost movie--where there's no doubt it's really a ghost. Great music, too, as you noted. Thanks for a fine review of one of my ghostly faves.

  5. A great post on a most enjoyable movie, one of the very best of its kind. It made a big impression on me as a kid and an equally strong one when I rewatched it many years later. So glad you mentioned the moody photography by Charles Lang. He's one of the unknown greats, and every time I see a movie he photographed (IMDb credits him with 146 films between 1926-1973) I'm amazed at his talent and versatility. He was equally at home with b&w and color and worked in all genres with everyone from Frank Borzage to Fritz Lang to Anthony Mann and Billy Wilder!

  6. Hi Toto! Love your article! The Uninvited has always been a favorite of mine. I must admit I had an enormous crush on Ray Milland when I was about, oh, in my 50's. LOL. Actually, it started when I was a kid and has continued on. I love a good ghost story, and the great music and photography in this movie were spot on. Besides being spooky, it also had great humor. Especially the last line, which I think is one of the funniest ever done.

    Everyone was so very British! For instance, after the crying was heard, the sister calmly said she had gone downstairs and investigated the whole house. While she was ALONE in the house. Really?? If I had gone downstairs at all, it would have been only to get to the front door, out and do a 20 yard dash. It was plain from your article that you are not a big Gail Patrick fan. I think she was an actress who was so sweetly lovely that her actual acting was overlooked a lot. I think she put in a good comedy line, although it wasn't meant to be. When she is talking to Ray Milland, upset with him for trying to keep her away, she said "You shan't, you shan't!" Pretty stiff dialogue, very British, and she just sounded funny to me.
    Cornelia Otis Skinner was so good! It's a treat to get to see the great stage actress. She was almost as scary as the ghost. Your linking her with Ms. Danvers was insightful.

    Well, I can pick at the movie a little, but I absolutely love it. I already have it out and ready to watch for Halloween month!

  7. Great post, Toto, on one of my favorite ghostly tales set on the English seacoast. Fine cast, too, with Cornelia Otis Skinner (her character is Danvers-esque, but for a long time I confused the actress w/Gale Sondergaard) and Donald Crisp delivering supporting performances that added so much. I was thrilled when THE UNINVITED premiered on TCM a few years ago - and I just checked the site and am happy to report it will next be screened on Sat., Jan. 22 at 10:15pm Eastern.
    It's true that it's not a masterpiece but it certainly is a well-made and beloved film. Thanks, toto...xlnt choice.

  8. Toto, I haven't seen this movie in two years, but your review makes me want to see it again. It is a good ghost story. I have always liked Ray Milland. One of my favorite of his movies is FROGS. I know it is a dumb story but still love it. Great choice of an October movie, Toto. Enjoyed your review!!

  9. Your review is great! I taped this film on my DVR last time it was on TCM! I love the story and the wonderful acting. Plus, as you said Alan Napier went on to be Alfred On Batman -- so it's nice to see him as a young man. Plus, Ruth Hussey got a chance to show her ability to be a lead not just a supporting player.