Release Date(s)1944 (October 22, 2013)
Studio(s)Universal (Criterion - Spine #677)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A-
Lewis Allen’s The Uninvited was originally released in 1944 by Paramount Pictures and stars Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey and Gail Russell. The film is about a brother and sister stumbling upon a cliffside home and deciding to purchase and live in it. They soon find out that both the house and the people who own it have a past, particularly a young girl, who is drawn to the house by a seemingly supernatural force.
The Uninvited was the first haunted house film to take the ghosts in the movie seriously. Up until this time, most, if not all, films involving ghosts were either spoofs or comedies. But what’s great about the film is how non-formulaic it is in structure. When it comes to haunted house movies, especially these days, there’s always a married couple, usually with kids, moving into an old house and being driven to hysteria by ghosts or demons. The Uninvited is not that type of film at all. The spirits in the film have a purpose, rather than just attempting to scare the wits out of the new occupants. It’s also nice that it’s a brother and sister moving in with no kids and no real signs of romance for either of them. They find these things throughout the course of the film, which makes them more rounded characters and more interesting to watch.
The film hinges on two performances in particular, that of Ray Milland’s and Gail Russell’s. Russell is the target of the supernatural disturbances, and she plays it remarkably well. Milland, who is one of my favorite actors, plays it relatively straight, but reacts appropriately to the situations around him (save for a couple of scenes where a little bit of silliness comes out). The film is beautifully-shot by Charles B. Lang (who also shot the similar film The Ghost and Mrs. Muir three years later) and carries a great score by composer Victor Young, whose composition “Stella by Starlight” from the film became a very successful jazz standard among musicians. Overall, the film is more of a supernatural mystery by today’s definition than a horror film. It’s a simple ghost story with romantic elements to it, but is also full of atmosphere. And despite the latter half of the film being chock full of mostly exposition, it’s still a terrific film that will hold your interest.
For Criterion’s Blu-ray debut of the film, we get a very lovely presentation. The film has been given a 2K digital restoration sourced from a 35mm safety duplicate negative made from a nitrate composite fine-grain and presented in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The results are quite excellent. There’s a fine amount of film grain and image detail, although the picture isn’t entirely stable the whole time. Blacks are very good and both brightness and contrast are great, with not too many fluctuations. There’s been plenty of film defects left behind, including vertical lines on the right of frame, but there’s no evidence to suggest heavy-handed digital manipulation. The film’s soundtrack, which is an uncompressed English mono track, lacks dynamic range but is effective enough. Dialogue is clean and clear, as are the sound effects and the score. It never sounds muddled, but it does sound its age and is a bit on the quiet side. Not perfect, but it’s definitely adequate. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
The supplemental section is brief, but there’s some good stuff to be had here. There’s the Giving Up the Ghost visual essay by filmmaker Michael Almereyda; two radio adaptations of the film: one from Screen Guild Theater on August 28, 1944, and the other from Screen Director’s Playhouse on November 18, 1949 (both starring Ray Milland); the film’s theatrical trailer; and finally, a 24-page booklet with an essay by critic Farran Smith Nehme and a 1997 interview with director Lewis Allen. Obviously, the radio adaptations are the best inclusions here, but I think you’ll find the visual essay quite interesting too, as it does get into more detail about the film and its stars.
The Uninvited is creepy, but it never goes for jump scares. It’s more about the atmosphere and the characters than anything, building up and then unfolding the mystery of it all. Ghost stories are difficult to get right and get yourself invested in, but I think The Uninvited does one of the best jobs at achieving this. And Criterion’s Blu-ray release of the film should satisfy classic film fans, as well as people in need of a good old-fashioned ghost story with some romantic charm.
- Tim Salmons