One of the finest examples of a ghost story in Hollywood during it's Golden Age is the stylish and haunting The Uninvited from Paramount in 1944. More spooky than scary, more mystery than horror, The Uninvited has an actual supernatural element not seen in most films of it's day. There's no "ah, that explains how that happened" twist at the ending but instead, an open honest look into the paranormal with no excuses.
The story, based on Dorothy Macardle's novel, is of London siblings (Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey), both unmarried, who buy a grand old home, Winward House, on the Cornish coast of England. The current owner, stiffly upper crust Donald Crisp, lets the place go for a song. Hmmm....Come to find out, things were not always so grand and elegant at Winward House and to the new owners chagrin, they find that it is haunted. The film does offer a few unrealistic glitches, like Milland going sailing on a whim in his tweeds, tie and best fedora or the fact that the siblings, out of the blue, decide to plunk their life savings into a decades old house the same day they discover it. But no matter, these missteps can be overlooked in lieu of the finer elements displayed throughout the film.
The Uninvited is somewhat reminiscent of Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940), not in storyline as much as in atmosphere and character. Like Rebecca, the setting is a large stately house on the coast of England. The house is filled with the memory of it's former mistress, Mary Meredith (heck, it's filled with her very spirit, as she's the one haunting it), and there's even a creepy, dark haired mystery woman, who is unyieldingly devoted to the memory of the dead woman, such as Mrs. Danvers was in Rebecca. More than one film analyst has noted the obvious lesbian theme related to this character, Miss Holloway. It is a role that Gale Sondergaard would have excelled in.
The movie is chilling without the use of modern special effects, though the one camera trick that is used, the spectre of Mary Meredith, is very effective. The atmosphere is instead achieved through expert black and white cinematography by Charles Lang, whose masterful use of light and shadow earned him an Oscar nomination. Also a top asset for the film was it's haunting, romantic score by Paramount's resident composer, Victor Young, which includes the lovely tune Stella by Starlight.
Besides Milland, at his devil may care best, and Hussey (too attractive and refined not to be married), the cast includes the afore mentioned Donald Crisp, stage actress Cornelia Otis Skinner, as the eerie Miss Holloway and beautiful, young Gail Russell, who is "introduced" in her role as the daughter of the dead Mary Meredith (in reality she had appeared in the low budget Henry Aldrich Gets Glamour the previous year). An interesting side note, the same year The Uninvited was released, Gail Russell played her co-star, Cornelia Otis Skinner, in Paramount's Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, which recounted Skinner's early years abroad.