Who’s that knocking on my door? GASP! It’s The Uninvited (1944)!

The UninvitedWith James Wan’s recent haunted houser THE CONJURING (2012) scaring up all kinds of big business at the boo-xoffice lately, I’ve had occasion to opine, mostly to the open air of my empty house and in my most lamentable ghostly wail, “Whyyyyyyyyy… whyyyyyyyyyy isn’t THE UNINVITED on DVD in this country? WHYYYYYYYYYYY???” And also, “Wheeeerrrrrrreeeee’s my gooooolllllllllllldddennnn arrrrrmmmmmm?”  Well, silly me, it is available… or is about to be made available. (THE UNINVITED, I mean. Made available on DVD; golden arm still M.I.A.) Lewis Allen’s masterful 1944 ghost tale (not to be confused with the crap-ass 2009 American remake of the 2003 Korean ghost movie A TALE OF TWO SISTERS, which cadged the title THE UNINVITED rather gratuitously, rendering generic a brand that had been for almost half a century threaded with the very stuff of mystery and menace), based on the charming 1941 novel Uneasy Freehold by Irish writer Dorothy Macardle, is being released on DVD and Blu-ray by the estimable, the frighteningly comprehensive, and the exceedingly cool Criterion Collection. The announced street date is just over two months away. October 22nd.  Just in time for Halloween!

I’ll tell you exactly where I was when I first saw THE UNINVITED, thank you for asking. It was New York City, it was the late  80s — 1988 or 1989 — and the thing just came on TV. I have no recollection of what channel was showing THE UNINVITED, if I had looked forward to seeing it or just found it already in progress, but my roommate and I found ourselves glued — glu-oo-ooed — to our cheap little black-and-white set as we sat side by side, two 20-something Bohemians with scratchy three days beards and black clothes, on the floor my futon, which doubled in those halcyon days as the couch in our Upper East Side railroad apartment. We both enjoyed the movie thoroughly throughout its crisp, fleet o’floot running time, but it was the ending… the ending, when the whooky-de-woo went all woooooo-oooooooo-ooooooooo and the protagonists were like yeow-ow-ow-ow that made us get all “GAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” And then I spent the next, I don’t even know how many years — 20 at least — wondering “Did I really see what I thought I saw?”

Uninvited novelBased as it is on a novel (two radio adaptatons followed within five years, and a stage version in 1979), THE UNINVITED turns not on a shopping list of tricks or feints or special effects but on words, on conversations, on secrets, on declarations, and in superstition and dread given voice. It’s a story that is fundamentally interested in people — the living, mind you — and one that does not suppose (as do so many contemporary ghost stories) that the dead have anything to tell us that we do not already know. This is not to say THE UNINVITED doesn’t believe in ghosts — far from it — but rather it understands that the restless dead derive the entirety of their power from the living, from the oral tradition, from the information we conceal from one another and ultimately from ourselves. Largely faithful to the Macardle novel (apart from changing various location and character names — the nickname of the main character from Roddy to Rick and his profession from theatre critic-cum-playwright to music critic-cum-composer), THE UNINVITED begins, leisurely but assuredly, as vacationing brother and sister Roderick and Pamela Fitzgerald (Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey) espy an empty old house on the stormy Devonshire coast and decide that they must have it as a change of venue from dreary old London. Not daring to dream they could afford such a manor, Rick and Pam manage to buy Windward House for a song from retired military man Beech (Donald Crisp). Getting chummy with the commander’s granddaughter, Stella, (Gail Russell), a beautiful but demon-drawn young woman, the Fitzgeralds find out there is a tale to be told about their new digs, a proper ghost story, whose third act has yet to be written.

The Uninvited-seance

THE UNINVITED is such an engrossing little yarn that you don’t even care that it throws in your way not one love story subplot but two. Happily, these represent not padding but rather a fleshing out of the overriding theme of loneliness. If Rick seems a bit mature for the budding Stella (while representing for her, it’s worth noting, a happier ever after than she had to expect at Cornelia Otis Skinner’s sanitarium), you’ve got to love the sparks that fly between Hussey and Alan Napier, as the local sawbones (who is able to add a few pieces to the niggling puzzle that is Windward House). The dialogue by Frank Portos (THE STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR! THE SNAKE PIT!) and Dodie Smith (who wrote the source novel for Disney’s 101 DALMATIONS) is brisk and fulgent, light when it needs to be and then clamping down like a steel glove when things get heavy. The playing is expert, Lewis Allen’s direction (his first go at features after a career in theatre) is efficient yet evocative, and the icing on THE UNINVITED cake is the eerie process photography of Farciot Edouart (relatively fresh from Paramount’s comical but still creepy THE GHOST BREAKERS with Bob Hope and United Artists’ I MARRIED A WITCH with Veronica Lake). Edouart’s spectral contributions were not part of the original design and were only added, NIGHT OF THE DEMON-style, in postproduction, after Lewis Allen turned in his cut to Paramount. To say more about what happens specifically would be to do the uninitiated and THE UNINVITED a disservice. When this thing streets, see it. See it for yourself!

The Uninvited Blu-ray backTHE UNINVITED got its British DVD release just last year, with Exposure Cinema’s region 2/PAL issue of the film. The transfer is only adequate, a bit dark, a bit soft, and a bit thumb-rubbed… but still, what a treat (for those of us with multi-region capability) to finally have this one on disc. The Brit release came with both the 1944 and 1949 radio versions of the film as bonus features, along with the original trailer, and a stills and poster gallery. Exposure also included a keepsake booklet, nicely illustrated with original poster art from American and foreign markets, featuring a foreword by The Dark Side publisher Allan Bryce, an essay on the film by Claudette Pyne (which offers a lot of biographical information on the cast and director, though gives Farciot Edouart short shrift), an essay on the ghost movie subgenre by American critic Clydefro Jones, and a bio of Ray Milland by film critic and historian James Oliver. Criterion’s impending release of THE UNINVITED raises the stakes immeasurably with a digital restoration of the film — in and of itself entirely worth the sticker price. Additionally, Criterion is offering as supplements a print essay by film blogger Farran Smith Nehme (aka The Self-Styled Siren) and a visual essay by New York indie filmmaker Michael Almereyda. I love Almereyda and am about the only person in the world who dug his female vampire movie NADJA (1994), though I think I like his TWISTER (1989) just a little bit more. I wish there were more extras but I’ll be happy just to have the film itself, looking grand, on a region 1 disc and you should be, too!

To pre-order THE UNINVITED DVD for $13.99, click here.

To pre-order THE UNINVITED Blu-ray for $19.99, click here.

13 Responses Who’s that knocking on my door? GASP! It’s The Uninvited (1944)!
Posted By Susan Doll : August 9, 2013 3:50 pm

Nice post on a film I like a lot.

Also, I am glad to hear that DVD releases are still including keepsake booklets. In my last few months at Facets, we were told by an industry insider that no one reads them and to save our money.

Posted By AL : August 9, 2013 5:02 pm

Great film Brilliant in all aspects. I’ve always wondered about the lovely, ethereal Gail Russell–a mysterious tragedy…

Posted By LD : August 9, 2013 5:06 pm

Horror is not my favorite genre, noir is, but The Uninvited is one of my favorite movies. Looking forward to seeing it on Blu-ray, preferably on a windy autumn evening with my beverage of choice. I enjoy a movie with atmosphere and The Uninvited has plenty of it. I am also glad it will contain a booklet. I read them.

Posted By ColetteK : August 10, 2013 3:47 pm

Wonderful news! I feel pretty much the same as LD in that The Uninvited is a favorite of mine. The release date couldn’t be more perfect.

P.S. Susan — I will read the booklet. Feedback from the consumer here.

Posted By Richard Brandt : August 11, 2013 5:50 pm

I can tell you exactly where I was when I first saw THE UNINVITED, on the big screen yet: at the World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City in 1976. It was the first science fiction convention I traveled to, yet they had booked such an incredible film program…loaded with classics like this as well as incredibly rare cult items…that I rarely left the massive ballroom with the gigantic screen. Also the first time I saw KING KONG or DARK STAR or John Landis’s SCHLOCK! or THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (hardly known at the time) or FORBIDDEN PLANET in Cinemascope (and probably the only place anyone ever saw MOONCHILD). I was 19 years old.

Posted By Nim Kovak : August 11, 2013 6:14 pm

Superb film! This is great news, as I’ve been trying to track this one down, longing to see it a second time …

As it happens, Just saw Borzage’s flawed but stupendously fascinating Moonrise — with an if possible almost even more stunningly beautiful Russell …

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : August 11, 2013 8:30 pm

I’m a booklet reader, too. When I trashed my old DVD cases, I kept the booklets.

Posted By Heidi : August 12, 2013 12:46 pm

Holy Cow! I have seen this movie, years and years ago, and couldn’t remember the title! Or who was in it (which I have to say happens more and more these days!) And here it is! Thanks so much for posting the release information. I will be ordering it, and reading the booklet too.

Posted By Patricia : August 12, 2013 3:16 pm

I’m a big fan of The Uninvited as well, and have spent a lot of time bemoaning that it’s not available on DVD. My parents introduced me to the film when I was a child, and I find it irresistible – if it is on, I have to watch it. Besides the super script and great acting, I love the music, which so adds to the atmosphere. I’ve already put the new Criterion disk on my wish list. I can’t wait!

Posted By swac44 : August 12, 2013 4:59 pm

Another booklet reader over here. Sometimes I’ll get so engrossed in one of the better ones, I’ll forget that the disc menu music snippet has been playing over and over in a loop at top volume for the past 30 minutes. My neighbours must love me.

Posted By swac44 : August 12, 2013 5:05 pm

I also remember watching The Uninvited for the first time, shortly after it surfaced on VHS for the first time back in the…um…late ’80s, I think? I remember being excited to finally see it, I think I read about it in Stephen King’s non-fiction ode to all things scary, Danse Macabre, and wasn’t disappointed when it ramped things up in its final third. Definitely going on my want list.

Posted By robbushblog : August 14, 2013 4:27 pm

I remember when I first saw The Uninvited. It was in the early 90′s, sometime in early autumn, when the leaves begin to shed their green skin in exchange for orange, red and yellow hues and the air turns only slightly crisp when the sun goes down. It was in that atmosphere that I rented the movie from my local Blockbuster. I had no idea how lucky I was to have rented that movie on that day. I love it. It’s great. I can’t wait!

Posted By robbushblog : August 14, 2013 4:46 pm

P.S. I am also an avid booklet reader.

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