Uninvited, The (1944): Lewis Allen’s Supernatural Horror, Starring Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey

Lewis Allen made an impressive feature debut with The Uninvited, a supernatural horror, based on Dorothy Macardle’s novel Uneasy Freehold.

The film stars Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp, and Gail Russell in her first major role. It is said that Billy Wilder decided to cast Milland as the lead in The Lost Weekend, which would win him the Best Actor Oscar, based on the latter’s strong work in The Uninvited.

The first film to portray ghosts as major forces rather than illusions, it includes such supernatural phenomena as disembodied voices and apparitions.

Set in 1937 London, the tale centers on music critic and composer Roderick “Rick” Fitzgerald (Milland) and his sister Pamela (Hussey), who’re smitten by the Windward House, an abandoned seaside home, during a holiday on Cornwall’s rocky coast. Soon after, they surprisingly purchased it for a low price from Commander Beech (Donald Crisp).

Rick and Pamela meet Beech’s mysterious granddaughter, Stella Meredith (Russell), who lives with her grandfather in the nearby town of Biddlecombe. Stella is deeply upset by the sale because of her attachment to the house, despite the fact that reportedly her mother, Mary Meredith, died there.

The commander has forbidden Stella to enter the house, but gains access to Windward House through Rick, who becomes infatuated with her.

The Fitzgeralds’ initial enchantment with the house diminishes when they unlock an artist’s studio where they feel an inexplicable chill. Rick then hears the sobs of an unseen woman.  Rick and Pamela must face the obvious: Windward House is haunted.

When Stella comes to Windward for dinner, she senses a spirit, and associated with it as representing her mother. Suddenly she dashes out towards the very cliff from which her mother fell to her death. Rick catches her just before she reaches the edge.

The Fitzgeralds and the town physician, Dr. Scott, begin an investigation. They learn that Stella’s father, a painter, had an affair with his model, a Spanish gypsy named Carmel.  When Mary found out, she took Carmel to Paris, but subsequently, Carmel returned to England, and stole the infant Stella. During a confrontation, she pushed Mary off the cliff to her death. Shortly afterward, Carmel herself became ill and died.

Rick tries to dissuade Stella from her attraction to Windward by staging a séance to convey the “message” that her mother wants her to stay away. However, the ghost takes over and communicates that it is guarding Stella. Stella becomes possessed by the spirit and begins muttering in Spanish.

Distressed by Stella’s conduct, Beech sends her to a sanitorium run by Miss Holloway, Mary’s friend and confidante. The Fitzgeralds visit Holloway, unaware that Stella is confined there. Holloway explains that after Mary’s death, she took care of Carmel, who had pneumonia and eventually died of it. Dr. Scott then discovers that Holloway may have hastened Carmel’s death.

Rick, Pam, and Scott call Holloway to inform her that they are on their way. Holloway deceives Stella, saying that the Fitzgeralds have invited her to live with them, and Stella takes the train home. Holloway tells the would-be rescuers that Stella is on her way to Windward House.

Grandfather begs Stella to get out, but she remains at his side. When a ghost appears, the commander succumbs to heart attack. Stella welcomes the ghost, as her mother, but the apparition frightens her, and she flees towards the cliff.

Rick and Dr. Scott get there in time to pull Stella from the crumbling cliff. The group is drawn to the physician’s journal, which the spirit has opened to a certain page. They discover that Carmel gave birth to a child in Paris, where Stella herself was born. Is Carmel Stella’s mother? Stella’s realization of her parentage frees Carmel’s spirit to leave Windward. Something evil, though, has remained.

In the end, Rick confronts the spirit of Mary Meredith, telling her that they are no longer afraid of her and that she has no power over them. Defeated, Mary’s spirit departs.

The thriller is handsomely mounted with lavish sets and atmospheric cinematography by Charles Lang, who was nominated for the Best Cinematography Oscar.

Victor Young’s emotionally gripping score contributes immeasurably to the feature’s noirish yet droll mood.

The unusual story lends itself to Freudian analysis, and the insertion of a lesbian subtext, which borrows from Hitchcock’s Rebecca, make sit more relevant to contemporary viewers.

Young’s hit, “Stella by Starlight,” based on the film’s theme, has become a jazz standard, later recorded by Miles Davis, Stan Getz and Dexter Gordon. As a vocal, with lyrics by Ned Washington, it was performed by Dick Haymes, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, and Ella Fitzgerald.