Ghost Movie of the Month: The Uninvited (1944)

Based on the novel, The Uninvited, by Dorothy Macardle (1942), originally entitled Uneasy Freehold

Screenplay: Frank Partos & Dodie Smith

Starring: Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Gail Russell, Donald Crisp

Turner Classic Movies (now, simply, TCM) saved classic movies. The channel bought huge numbers of old films and, through their commercial-free broadcasts, introduced new generations to acting, screenplays, cinematography, directing, and music that came out of big and small studios, in the U.S. and abroad, that otherwise might have decayed within their cans in forgotten vaults.

I have long admired the moviologies made available on the TCM website. Men and women who love movies present information that enhances my own enjoyment of old favorites and new discoveries. It’s not often I take exception to the opinions shared in these, but the other day I found one.

“While it might have chilled audiences of its era,” writes Jeff Stafford, “The Uninvited is not a frightening film by contemporary standards.”

Tsk.

Actually, I should add a disapproving click of the tongue after rereading Stafford’s sentence. And a sneer.

Stafford is wrong. Wholly wrong. Utterly wrong.

The Uninvited is one of the most enjoyable and genuinely frightening ghost stories ever committed to film. It made me jump at least a foot when I first saw it, a number of years ago, and it still conjures pleasant frissons of creepiness when I watch it now . . . which I do, each Halloween season.

The story is simple. A brother and sister, Rick and Pamela Fitzgerald, search England for a home to share while he writes his symphony. They find a beautiful, abandoned house atop the cliffs of Cornwall’s southern shore. On impulse, they buy the house from its owner, a crusty ex-military man, Commander Beech, despite the objections of Beech’s granddaughter, Stella, who cherishes the house as the former home of her deceased mother, Mary Meredith.

The Fitzgeralds move in, and the fun begins. For viewers, anyway.

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Ghost Movie of the Month: The Innocents

The Innocents (1961)
Based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw
Screenplay: Truman Capote
Starring: Deborah Kerr

If you’re looking for the perfect babysitter ghost movie, here it is.

Actually, it’s embodiment of a babysitter’s worst nightmare. An isolated house. No power. Polite kids who periodically turn creepy. Ghostly figures. A guardian who doesn’t show up when he says he would. I was mesmerized by this atmospheric tale of child care gone terribly awry.

I was, in fact, babysitting the first time I saw this movie. I was under18—I abandoned the care of strangers’ kids after I started college at 17—and I don’t remember what poor kid had been commended to my care for that evening, but I’m quite sure I didn’t miss any moment of this movie.

In the late nineteenth century, Miss Giddens (played by the great Deborah Kerr) is hired to care for Flora (Pamela Franklin) and her brother, Miles (Martin Stephens). The mansion in which she is sent to work is a bit out of the way, a bit bleak, and inhabited only by Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper (Megs Jenkins), and one or two servants . . . and Flora, a bright, young girl. Mrs. Grose welcomes Miss Giddens warmly, and Flora seems charming, beautifully behaved, a willing student.

Miss Giddens cannot believe her good fortune.

Than, a short time later, Flora’s brother, Miles, is sent home from school for an incident of moral turpitude that is never clearly explained and which both Miss Giddens and the housekeep dismiss as a misunderstanding on the part of the school staff.

And at first this seems to be the case. Miles is as cheerful, well-behaved, and charming as his sister. The children frolic in the house and gardens, attend their lessons, and all seems well.

Of course, occasionally Miles says things that are . . . well, odd. And Miss Giddens begins to believe the siblings are engaged in a giggling, whispered conspiracy to keep secrets from their governess.

Much worse, however, is the appearance of figures who seem to come and go at will. In the garden, birds suddenly fall silent, and a man appears whom, later, when told of the incident by Miss Giddens, the housekeeper identifies as Quint, a valet now dead who was believed to have exercised a corrupting influence on Miles. Quint’s lover, Miss Jessel, dead of suicide, appears on the small island in the ornamental lake, still and observant. In fact, with one exception, these revenants are seen only from a distance. We cannot see them clearly at first, nor do we know where they will turn up next, and the uncertainty heightens the sense of foreboding.

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