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The Uninvited (1944): The Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

The Uninvited (1944) movie poster The Uninvited

Theatrical Release: February 10, 1944 / Running Time: 99 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Lewis Allen / Writers: Dodie Smith, Frank Partos (screenplay), Dorothy Macardle (novel Uneasy Freehold)

Cast: Ray Milland (Roderick "Rick" Fitzgerald), Ruth Hussey (Pamela Fitzgerald), Donald Crisp (Commander Beech), Cornelia Otis Skinner (Miss Holloway), Dorothy Stickney (Miss Bird), Barbara Everest (Lizzie Flynn), Alan Napier (Dr. Scott), Gail Russell (Stella Meredith)

Buy The Uninvited from Amazon.com: Criterion Blu-ray • Criterion DVD

'Tis the season for horror, a fact that The Criterion Collection seems to acknowledge with this week's DVD and Blu-ray releases of The Uninvited, one of Hollywood's earlier ghost movies.

Adapted from the 1941 novel Uneasy Freehold by Irish author Dorothy Macardle, this 1944 thriller is set along "The Haunted Shore", the coastal stretches of England and Ireland believed to be roamed by spirits of the dead.

The film opens in May of 1937, as London siblings Rick (Ray Milland) and Pamela Fitzgerald (Ruth Hussey) are wrapping up a fortnight's holiday when they discover and fall for Windward House, a spacious, old, remote mansion on a seaside cliff.
The Fitzgeralds look into buying the home and face some resistance from Stella Meredith (Gail Russell), a 20-year-old woman who lived in it as a child. However, the house is owned by Stella's grandfather, Commander Beech (Donald Crisp), and, unable to maintain it, he agrees to sell it to the siblings and at the highly discounted price of just £1,200. The Commander confesses that there are rumors of Windward being a haunted house, but neither he nor the buyers buys into such nonsense.

Of course, the Fitzgeralds learn soon enough that maybe it's not nonsense. The two of them start hearing wailing noises in the middle of the night. Not every night and they ease up at dawn, but that doesn't exactly alleviate their fears. They might have taken a hint from their pets, a cat who refuses going upstairs and a dog who runs away. Night brings chilling drafts and a scent identified as mimosa perfume. The eerie vibes seem most concentrated in a room that the owners find locked up and that music critic Rick intends to use as a studio.

Siblings and housemates Pamela (Ruth Hussey) and Roderick Fitzgerald (Ray Milland) get a fright in the middle of the night in the 1944 ghost thriller "The Uninvited."

Making some sense of these disturbances is Stella, who emerges as a love interest to Rick. Stella's attachment to the estate relates to her mother, who died there seventeen years earlier. The young woman remains in contact with her and insists she can feel her presence there. But though she is calmed by that notion and drawn to the place, Stella is also strangely compelled to the edge of the cliff, where her mother died under somewhat shrouded circumstances.

Rick and Pamela look into that mystery along with Stella's doctor (Alan Napier), who has observed these overnight phenomena. They learn it involves a love triangle of Stella's parents and a Spanish Gypsy mistress. Forbidding Stella from associating with Windward (which he believes is "filled with malignities directed against" her), the Commander confidentially checks his daughter into the facility of a Miss Holloway (Cornelia Otis Skinner), the trained nurse who witnessed the fateful night and vows to keep her deceased confidante's secret. The Fitzgeralds have questions for "Holy" Holloway and doubts that she's being entirely forthright.

The Uninvited is reminiscent of Rebecca, Alfred Hitchcock's Best Picture-winning American debut adapted from Daphne du Maurier's novel four years earlier. That Gothic tale similarly explored the enduring fallout from a mysterious murder at a cliffside Cornish mansion. Whereas Rebecca approaches that subject as part of a study of a newlywed couple and their troubling head housekeeper, keeping its ghosts metaphorical, The Uninvited embraces the supernatural. In contrast to the comedic tone such material generally assumed heretofore, this movie depicts its supposed haunting with some straight-faced visual effects, serious frights, and, to the objections of the devoutly Catholic Irish maid Lizzie (Barbara Everest), a sιance.

In her first leading role, Gail Russell plays 20-year-old Stella Meredith, who is drawn to the Windward House. When in doubt, perform a sιance.

That renders it a literal ghost story but with the sophistication of a classic Hollywood drama. There is none of the stigma that's attached to most of today's genre pictures. There are also no cheap thrills or any moments of gore whatsoever. Unlike today's horror films, which seem inevitably aimed at teenagers (even and especially the R-rated ones),
The Uninvited seems tailored to adults and not just the simple and superstitious kind. The Fitzgeralds dismiss such notions, with Pamela initially fearing she's losing her mind, until their findings make a pretty convincing case that there are otherworldly forces at work.

The central mystery is solved too quickly and easily for how big and convoluted it is and that's a bit of a letdown after the film sustains its intriguing atmosphere for a solid 90 minutes. Still, there is much to enjoy about this film, from its fine set design to classy visuals, the latter of which drew an Academy Award nomination in the Best Black and White Cinematography category. The Uninvited didn't win that or any other honor of note. Until this week, when it was officially admitted into Criterion's line, where it is much more likely to be noticed and appreciated than its contemporaries.

This movie is already fairly well-known; only thirteen other 1944 releases have garnered more votes at IMDb, most of them distinguished by a famous director (Lifeboat), tradition (Walt Disney's The Three Caballeros), award (Best Picture winner Going My Way) or some combination of those and general prestige (Double Indemnity, Arsenic and Old Lace, Meet Me in St. Louis). Undoubtedly, there exists a Criterion bump both in visibility and estimation. This would be a good title on which to measure it. Note to distant future readers: see if The Uninvited has climbed higher than 14th for its year in votes and 47th in user rating (which seems poised to rise from its present 7.5 average).

The title "The Uninvited" has been applied to a number of subsequent horror movies plus a British sci-fi series, none of which have anything to do with it. The 1944 film did, however, inspire something of a quasi-sequel from Paramount and director Lewis Allen the following year in a movie called The Unseen based on a British novel. The original Uninvited counts among its fans directors Martin Scorsese, Guillermo del Toro, and Steven Spielberg, the lattermost of whom paid homage to it with a line of dialogue in the thematically kindred Poltergeist.

The Uninvited claims spine number 677 in single-disc DVD and Blu-ray editions (it's one of the boutique line's last new releases to separate formats like that). Remarkably, each represents the movie's first US release on that format. Each disc also carries an SRP $10 below Criterion's usual price points.

Though originally released by Paramount Pictures, The Uninvited is currently in the catalog of Universal Studios, who tackily supply their color modern logo at the beginning of the film between Criterion's understated monochrome logo and Paramount's original black and white studio card.

The Uninvited (1944): The Criterion Collection Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.37:1 Original Aspect Ratio
1.0 LPCM Mono (English)
Subtitles: English
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: October 22, 2013
Suggested Retail Price: $29.95
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Clear Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($19.95 SRP)


Having reviewed the underwhelming transfer on this month's similarly priced release of the 1940s comedy I Married a Witch earlier this week, I began fearing that it could mean that Criterion was losing their unrivaled touch at film restoration. Fear not! Though just two years younger and not substantially more popular, The Uninvited returns the studio to their gold standard. The excellent 1.37:1 Academy Ratio transfer is clean, clear, and filmic, featuring an appropriate amount of light grain and hardly any imperfections. The worst of those are infrequently vertical lines running down the edge of the frame, barely noticeable and not a problem. The lossless 1.0 LPCM monaural soundtrack also pleases. Though somewhat limited by age, the mix's recordings hold up with nothing worse than minimal hiss.

Michael Almereyda's visual essay touches upon the post-"Uninvited" careers of its actors, which for Ray Milland includes highs (an imminent Oscar-winning turn in "The Lost Weekend") and lows (the pictured 1970s exploitation flick "The Thing with Two Hands"). This original theatrical trailer promotes "The Uninvited" with some buzzwords.


The Blu-ray's extras begin with "Giving Up the Ghost: Notes on The Uninvited" (26:59), a new "visual essay" written, directed, and narrated by filmmaker and Criterion friend Michael Almereyda.
He speaks over clips and still frames from this and related films, talking about the lives and careers of principal contributors Gail Russell and Ray Milland. Though admiring, he points some shortcomings in the film and touches on its "ghost" of a sequel, The Unseen. Somewhat randomly, Almereyda brings in cultural anthropologist Erin Yerby to discuss ghosts in general and a specific 19th century haunting.

Next, we get a pair of half-hour radio adaptations of the film. The Screen Guild Theater's (then called The Lady Esther Screen Guild Players) August 28, 1944 presentation (29:25) reunites Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey, while recasting the role of Stella Meredith with Betty Field. Screen Director's Playhouse November 18, 1949 (29:50) also enlists Milland and director Lewis Allen. Each is pretty routine, faithfully condensing and abridging the story, while featuring passionate voice acting, suitable effects and music, and original make-up and movie ads.

On-disc extras include with The Uninvited's fun original theatrical trailer (2:03).

A briefly piano-scored, title-topped static view of the house and cliff functions as the menu. As always, Criterion authors the disc to resume whatever was last watched (if you so desire) and also enables you to set bookmarks.

Of course where I'd start wrapping up most reviews, Criterion gives us much more to talk about with another sturdy booklet housed in the clear keepcase. In between the standard, always-useful film and disc credits,
the bulk of the booklet is devoted to two articles. "Spirits by Starlight", an enjoyable essay by journalist Farran Smith Nehme, is full of information, revealing how censorship changed the film for UK release, that a Catholic priest objected to the film, and the creators' professional pasts and futures.

That's followed by Tom Weaver's 1997 interview of director Lewis Allen used in Weaver's 2004 book Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Flashbacks. It focuses almost exclusively on Allen's first and most famous feature directing credit, as the filmmaker recalls his Hollywood start, casting The Uninvited, and his experiences on the film.

The ghost of Mary Meredith is as giant as this portrait, on which Miss Holloway promises to guard secrets. What would a ghost movie be without a little romance and an original composition?


Despite a rushed and unfulfilling finale, The Uninvited is a fun ghost movie that holds up well. Though its classy execution differs from today's horror movies, its content hasn't aged; its plot basically aligns with The Conjuring, the genre's biggest hit of the year.

Criterion's Blu-ray delivers first-rate picture and sound, plus a decent handful of extras. It's a strong platter that is only easy to take for granted from the studio that puts out so many of those.

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Related Reviews:
New: I Married a Witch • The Conjuring • House of Wax • Halloween • The Best Years of Our Lives
1940s: Rebecca • A Letter to Three Wives • It's a Wonderful Life • Bambi • Beauty and the Beast • Dumbo
Poltergeist • Island of Lost Souls • Insidious • The Uninvited (2009) • Pet Sematary • Paranormal Activity 2
Ray Milland: Love Story • Escape to Witch Mountain | Donald Crisp: Greyfriars Bobby • Pollyanna | Alan Napier: The Sword in the Stone
Written by Dodie Smith: 101 Dalmatians

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Reviewed October 25, 2013.

Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1944 Paramount Pictures, 2013 The Criterion Collection and Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.