After having just said in my previous post that most of the movies I’ll be celebrating this Halloween month won’t be on anyone’s best-of list, I am gonna have to go and hit you with one of the best ghost stories of all time, because that is the kind of girl I am.
Starring Ray Milland, an actor whose work charms me to such a degree that it feels as if we are old friends, this classic old dark house tale starts with a conventional plot and then turns it a little sideways. A little cattywompus, if I may be so bold. Milland and Ruth Hussey play Rick and Pam, a brother and sister in England who find a house while on vacation, immediately fall in love with it, and impulsively decide to buy it. It’s super cheap because it has a ghost in it, natch. But here’s where things get anti-trope: the siblings, who you think are going to be the protagonists of the film, become supporting characters to Stella, the granddaughter of the home’s former owner.
See, this young lady, played by Hollywood casualty Gail Russell, lived in the house until she was three. But upon the death of her mother due to hitting the ground after falling over the cliff out front, the unfortunate Stella went to live with her grandfather. She is forbidden by Grandfather to enter the house because its spirit, or spirits, keep reaching out for her in disturbing ways. Plus there’s a live and highly overwrought former girlfriend of her dead mother who owns her own dang mental hospital and who wants to get her claws in the poor girl. Meanwhile, Rick is falling in love with Stella, and both he and Pam want her to hang out with them in the no-no house. It’s a pickle.
Other refreshing plot points: the siblings’ dog, Bobby, who sees the ghosts before anyone else, does not die like so many of his canine horror counterparts, he merely runs away and goes to live with the coolest country doctor in the world. Dr. Scott sits up all night playing cards with Pam and Rick after Stella gets a case of the spectral vapors and has to crash at their place, gives them the private medical records necessary to solve The Big Mystery, and even participates in a seance. Try getting a doctor to do THAT in America on private for-profit insurance!
Other than that, and I’ll get to stopping here so I don’t give too much away, the ghost effects are sparsely used and must have been cutting edge at the time, and best of all, the movie’s theme written by Milland’s composer character became the jazz standard “Stella By Starlight.”
As a HUGE I-like-this-ironically bonus, because I can’t resist pointing out nonsense dialogue, at one point the grandfather’s cook informs him that supper is going to be late because, “sir, it’s the lamb being awkward.” The meat being served for dinner is being awkward?! So, like, it is a classmate who sent you inappropriate texts? It’s a weeaboo? It won’t stop asking if “you’re working hard or hardly working” while you’re cooking it? Explain how the dead animal you’re fixing to eat is being awkward? These are the questions I have to ask now that I’m a film critic.
Okay, awkward lamb aside, if you haven’t seen The Uninvited, see it, and if you have, see it again. Do it for Bobby the dog!