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The Uninvited (Lewis Allen, 1944)

 

     Perhaps something less than its classic reputation suggests, Lewis Allenís archetypical haunted house yarn The Uninvited nonetheless is a sturdy construction, replete with no small degree of atmosphere. This tale begins, as many classic ghost stories, with a lilting, British-accented voiceover, and itís clear from the get-go, that this movie will be a class act. Though that means romance and atmosphere are highlighted over supernatural shocks, the story, set in 1937, is nonetheless well-told.

 

     Decidedly more spooky than scary, The Uninvited opens as a brother and sister are walking along the cliffs of Cornwall. After their dog chases a squirrel into an abandoned house, they discover that it reminds them of their childhood home, and decide to purchase the property on the spur of a moment, even though there are hints that the houseís past is less than ideal. Indeed, from the mysterious, locked-up room, to the suggestions of a dark familial secret involving a hot-blooded Gypsy woman,  to a loony nurse who dresses in what could pass for a druidís robe, to a young girl who remains convinced that her motherís spirit still dwells in the house, thereís definite cause for alarm.

 

     The Uninivted,  from its start, charts a decidedly Oedipal trajectory, with the hero reclaiming the home which reminds him of his fatherís and using it to domesticate and subjugate a woman, who resists him because she recognizes that the romance will take her away from her mother. From its opening moments, until the plot concludes with a very macho exorcism, itís difficult to resist such a reading. This is compounded by the way the first half of the movie focuses so heavily on the budding romance between a 20 year old girl and a middle-aged Ray Milland. Although there are a few incidents involving animals that refuse to go upstairs, and disembodied sobbing, the opening scenes belie the movie that The Uninvited will eventually become.

 

     The special effects here are creepier for being sparingly used, and frankly the housekeeperís horrified recounting of a ďcrawling mistĒ is scarier than anything that the movie visualizes. This moment, which comes midway through the film, marks the tonal shift away from the extended meet cute that had dominated the first half, toward a series of supernatural encounters. Once The Uninvited does begin focusing on its haunting, it does improve, and becomes reasonably effective in its pursuit of goose bumps. What emerges, finally, is a ghostly catfight, with good and evil female spirits combating each other over the fate of the virginal girl. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that this is classic Hollywood, Ray Milland triumphs.

 

62 

Jeremy Heilman 

02.06.09