The mid-'40s were the peak of actor Ray Milland's five-decade career. He made the Fritz Lang classic “Ministry of Fear,” Billy Wilder's “The Lost Weekend,” for which he won an Oscar, and Lewis Allen's ghost story, “The Uninvited.” It was Allen's first and perhaps finest movie, but it may be best remembered as the source of the jazz standard, “Stella by Starlight.”
Milland and Ruth Hussey play siblings who get a great bargain on a huge old hillside house by the sea. Soon they find out why it was so cheap: Strange sobbing can be heard at night, together with a sudden coldness, an overwhelming sense of despair, and the scent of mimosa. It appears the house is haunted by the mother of Stella Meredith (Gail Russell), a beautiful young local with whom Milland falls in love.
Most Hollywood ghost movies before “The Uninvited” were comedies. “The Uninvited” was a prototype of the classier non-comic entries to come. Like “The Haunting,” it avoided the explicit, relying instead on audio and suggestion. It's creepy scary, neither bloody nor full of makeup and visual effects. However, there is one shock moment that makes you leap from your seat.
As usual, Criterion provides a clean, fine-grained image. There is not much by way of extras. “Giving Up the Ghost” is a brand new “visual essay” by director Michael Almereyda (“Nadja” and the Ethan Hawke “Hamlet”). Almereyda uses plentiful stills to accompany his voice-over; he both provides valuable background and spins his own critical theories. And, at one point, he inexplicably cuts away from an interviewee to a shot from over her left shoulder. Talk about spooky!
Other than that, all we get is a trailer and two recordings of radio adaptations with Milland reprising his role.
"The Uninvited" Criterion, Blu-ray, $29.95; DVD, $19.95
ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).