Review: The Uninvited (1944 movie)

There are a number of movies (mainly in the horror genre) with the same name (such as the 2008 film reviewed here), but as far as I can tell they’re unrelated except for the title. In this one, an English composer and his sister (Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey) come upon an empty but spacious and appealing seaside house while traveling in Devonshire, and on an impulse they decide to buy it and move in. The owner lives nearby with his grown granddaughter Stella (Gail Russell), who doesn’t want the house to be sold because she had lived there the first three years of her life, up until her mother’s tragic death, and she doesn’t want to lose that link.

Milland and Hussey are sympathetic and after they buy the house they invite her to visit whenever she likes. She proves so appealing that Milland soon finds himself falling in love with her. One day he plays a lovely romantic ballad on the piano and she’s surprised and touched to learn that he wrote it for her, calling it “Stella by Starlight.”

(It was actually written by the film’s composer, Victor Young, and it later became an enduring piece of popular music, especially after it was released with a lyric by Ned Washington in 1946. You can find many versions on YouTube.)

The house proves to be haunted, perhaps by more than one spirit. News of this provokes a strange reaction in Stella’s grandfather, who sends her away to a rest home owned by a strangely menacing woman.

The rest home owner is very well played by Cornelia Otis Skinner, who was at least as well known as an author of books, plays (some of which she also starred in), and a long series of popular humor pieces for The New Yorker. Skinner and her friend Emily Kimbrough wrote a best-selling book about their college trip through Europe called Our Hearts Were Young and Gay that was adapted into a movie.

The Uninvited is a pretty decent ghost story with some nice twists, and I liked it. It’s sometimes said that the 1963 film Charade (starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn) was the best Hitchcock film not directed by Hitchcock, and this movie, while not that good, might be a runner up in the same category. Two of its actors also worked with Hitchcock, most obviously Ray Milland, who starred in Dial M for Murder, but also Alan Napier (the village doctor in this film) who was in at least one episode of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents television series (and is today probably most remembered for playing Batman’s butler Alfred).

Despite the English setting, The Uninvited was shot in California, Britain being rather occupied with World War II at the time.

Incidentally, later the same year Gail Russell (Stella) starred as Cornelia Otis Skinner in the film adaptation of Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, and she appeared in its 1946 sequel as well. In other films she played opposite such major stars as Joel McCrea, Alan Ladd, and John Wayne.

She was beautiful and a pretty decent actress, but she was so shy and unsure of herself that she turned to alcohol to steady her nerves eventually developing a serious drinking problem that damaged her career. One night in 1961, not long after appearing in her first film in three years, she telephoned a radio station to request “Stella by Starlight.” The following day she was found dead in her small studio apartment surrounded by empty liquor bottles. She was 36.


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