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Tag Archives: Haunted Houses

The Uninvited (1944)

zbzxx2mm0gf5fbrsxs85From the moment I heard the score by Victor Young play during the credits of The Uninvited I suspected I was in for a romantic ghost story more in the realm of Rebecca or The Ghost and Mrs. Muir than the creepy haunted house story I was expecting. It’s not creepy, though it does have some genuinely chilling moments, but what makes it so good is the excellent way it blends and layers its many elements of romance, horror, mystery, ghosts, and family secrets, all played with a light touch and a surprisingly uplifting ending.

Brother and sister Roderick and Pamela Fitzgerald (Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey) are on vacation in Cornwall and come across Windward House, which they fall in love with instantly and purchase cheaply from Commodore Beech (Donald Crisp), who is eager to be rid of the house. His granddaughter, however, is not so eager and tries to prevent the sale. Stella Meredith (Gail Russell) is an orphan raised by her grandfather and feels an attachment for Windward because it was her mother’s, Mary Meredith – a woman whose memory everyone respects and admires.

But Roderick and Pamela move in anyway, despite the fact that their dog refuses to go up the stairs to the second floor and that one of the rooms has a cold, clammy feeling about it. Soon, their dog even deserts them for the local doctor. Worse still, they hear sobbing and moaning in the night, which they cannot explain. There is that traveling coldness, the sudden smell of mimosa. They learn that Mary Meredith died in the house, as well as another woman, Carmel, who was the mistress of Mary Meredith’s husband.

Ray Milland, Barbara Everest as their housekeeper, Ruth Hussey and Gail Russell

Ray Milland, Barbara Everest as their housekeeper, Ruth Hussey and Gail Russell

Meanwhile, Stella is still attracted to the house, despite the commodore forbidding her to go near it. He fears the house is only evil for Stella while Stella believes that there is love there, from her mother. The commodore desperately turns to Miss Holloway (Cornelia Otis Skinner) for help, who runs a sanitarium and has a massive Mrs. Danvers-complex about the deceased Mary Meredith. Meanwhile, Roderick (who has fallen in love with Stella) and Pamela are determined to cure the house and find out what is going on.

Its an unique attitude, because most people would have left the house as soon as they knew there were ghosts there, but not Roderick and Pamela. They certainly find it disconcerting, but they seem to have no fear for themselves. The fear is all for Stella. It is as if the ghosts have no means of hurting them; there is no opening. Only Stella, who feels a connection with the house, is open to any influence or harm.

The movie unfolds more as a mystery than a horror story, as Roderick, Pamela and the local doctor, Dr. Scott (Alan Napier – a solid, comforting and rational presence in the film) investigate, both naturally and supernaturally. But what is revealed, and the threat and hatred directed at Stella, is where the horror comes into the story. It’s also an effective ghost story, though somewhat unconventional, The ghosts begin to take on distinct personalities, to become human with specific purposes, and the more human they are, the less frightening they are.

Gail Russell and Cornelia Otis Skinner

Gail Russell and Cornelia Otis Skinner

But however sordid and twisted the past, the present is kept light, especially through the character played by Ray Milland, who seems, even near the end, as if he still can hardly believe he’s landed in a ghost story (which, perhaps, is a very natural reaction). Ruth Hussey’s Pamela, on the other hand, hardly bats an eye and is determined to fix everything. The Uninvited was the film that introduced Gail Russell and she has to carry the heart of the film as the vulnerable girl who is becoming a woman, but is still tied to the past. Cornelia Otis Skinner gives us a flesh-and-blood villain to compliment the evil in the house and is extremely effective.

Spoilers…sort of! And how do they ultimately defeat the evil and free Stella? With the truth – which causes the ghost to lose her hold over Stella and the entire house. No one fears her and she now has no power. There is a twist at the end of the story and a surprisingly uplifting ending, as if now that the truth is known, it can be laid in the past. Everything is swept clean, simply by knowing the truth. And the secrets were festering. The relationships in the house between Stella’s father, Mary Meredith, Carmel and Miss Holloway (nurse and friend to Mary Meredith) were so dysfunctional and poisonous that certain of them couldn’t rest until they had destroyed even Stella, who lived in the poisonous atmosphere until she was three.

Ruth Hussey, Alan Napier, Ray Milland, Cornelia Otis Skinner - that is a portrait of Mary Meredith on the wall

Ruth Hussey, Alan Napier, Ray Milland, Cornelia Otis Skinner – that is a portrait of Mary Meredith on the wall

I was rather intrigued by the ending because I am currently reading Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of Seven Gables, which deals with the theme of how the sins of the fathers are visited on that of the children and how the Pyncheon family line (and house) seems to have been cursed by the original sin committed by the original Pyncheon. The curse seems to follow the family down the generations as the house and inhabitants become increasingly decayed. The Uninvited is slightly different, but there is a kernel of similarity. Once again, the sins of the father (really mother and even enemies of mother) are being visited on the child, but this time through active malevolence. The hatred was so strong that the spirit of the dead woman stayed behind in the house to ensure that Stella participated in the destruction. But by learning the truth (and Miss Holloway is invested in maintaining deception), Stella is freed from it. She is not obliged to pay for the sins of her parents. And neither is the house.

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2015 in Movies

 

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The Ghost and Mrs. Muir – R.A. Dick (Josephine Leslie)

239437One of my favorite romantic films is the 1947 The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, with Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison. That film, however, was based on a book, published only two years earlier with the same title, by R. A. Dick, pseudonym for Josephine Leslie. It’s a short novel, only 180 pages, and the movie is quite faithful to the book with only a few, understandable changes.

Mrs. Lucy Muir, often called little Mrs. Muir, is now a widow with two children (there is only one child in the movie). She has always lived, all her life, meekly adhering to the lifestyle that her husband and his family wanted. But now that he is gone, she has determined that she will direct her own life. She moves out from the home of her in-laws and decides that she wants to live by the seashore. Even the residents of her chosen town seem to expect that she will conform to a certain lifestyle and assume she will live in a respectable house in a respectable neighborhood. But Lucy falls in love with a most unsuitable place, an empty cottage, Gull Cottage, that is said to be haunted. No one’s been able to live there for ten years.

Undeterred, she rents the house and moves in with her two children. Sure enough the ghost manifests himself – as a voice – but she refuses to be frightened off. She has taken her own life into her hands and she is not about to let even a ghost swerve her from her decision. Instead the ghost, a sea captain named Daniel Gregg, who seems a bit lonely in the afterlife, is impressed by her and the two of them forge a unique friendship that lasts Lucy’s whole life, with the captain empowering Lucy to stand firm and live as she chooses.

I did enjoy the book, though it does not have the haunting, romantic beauty of the film and the story is more remarkable than the writing. The book is less a romance and more strongly emphasizes Lucy’s quest for independence; financial independence, but also independence in the eyes of other people. For various reasons, she is always being viewed as helpless by other people, like her sister-in-law, the rental agent, her children, even the town people. She is petite, a widow, does not push her weight around, has a sweet manner and people are always wanting to take care of her when all she desires is to be left alone and to let other people alone.

But she is lonely. As in the movie, there is that sense of the absence of a soul mate, someone she understands and who truly understands her. Daniel Gregg does understand her, though perhaps he has an unfair advantage because as a ghost he can read her mind and delights to break into her thoughts to give her unsolicited advice, which generally prompts a quarrel.

Gene Tierney as Lucy looks at Captain Gregg picture in the film, which looks suspiciously like Rex Harrison

Gene Tierney as Lucy looks at Captain Gregg’s picture in the film

Unlike the movie, the captain is not an apparition; he is only a voice. She never sees him. There is a picture of him in the house that she suspects does not do him justice and one night she has a dream about him, but otherwise he remains a voice, with a great deal of personality and a tendency to use strong language. But the one thing that being a voice does allow in the the story is for Daniel and Lucy to achieve an extreme form of intimacy in their friendship that would be impossible if he had a physical body. He is almost one with her, being able to advise her on extremely personal matters and make personal observations. Though it is a bit one-sided, since there are many things she does not know about him, especially because he is a ghost and he declines to make too many comments about what the afterlife is like. But he does talk with her and tells her many things about his life and adventures.

In both the movie and the book, Daniel dictates his memoirs to Lucy, called Blood and Swash. He does this because she is in need of money. In the movie, she needs money simply to go on living in the house, but in the book it is because she needs to be able to provide for her children. However, what the book ends up doing in Leslie’s novel is not so much as meet an immediate need as it gives her the financial security she needs so that she can live her entire life, even when she is old and infirm, in Gull Cottage and not have to move in with anyone. It is the ultimate means to her independence.

But because Daniel is always saying that he does not view the things of the flesh in the same way, there is less romance and more friendship. He does still make the comment that he made in the movie about how much they missed by not being alive at the same time, but that is not quite as pivotal a scene as in the film. However, the book does retain that sense, when she dies, of having come home, as if she never really was at her ease while she lived on earth. She is united with Daniel and one can imagine that perhaps Daniel will at last find some peace in the afterlife, too.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2015 in Fiction

 

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