(director: Lewis Allen; screenwriters: Frank Partos/Dodie Smith/from the book Uneasy Freehold by Dorothy Macardle; cinematographer: Charles B. Lang; editor: Doane Harrison; music: Victor Young; cast: Ray Milland (Roderick ‘Rick’ Fitzgerald), Ruth Hussey (Pamela Fitzgerald), Donald Crisp (Commander Beech), Cornelia Otis Skinner (Miss Holloway), Dorothy Stickney (Miss Bird), Barbara Everest (Lizzie Flynn), Alan Napier (Dr. Scott), Gail Russell (Stella Meredith), Holmes Herbert (Charlie Jessup); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Charles Brackett; Paramount; 1944)

“An impressive, though outdated, old-fashioned ghost story.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An impressive, though outdated, old-fashioned ghost story directed by Lewis Allen. It’s based on the book Uneasy Freehold by Dorothy Macardle; the screenplay is by Frank Partos and Dodie Smith. Though it looks as if it were a Hollywood setting, the actual Cornish Cliffs setting sets a creepy atmospheric look. It also makes fine use of a haunted mansion, much like the one in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (filmed in 1940 by Hitchcock). But what really separates this supernatural thriller from many others, is that it doesn’t rationalize its ending and try to make it seem like there wasn’t a ghost present.

While London siblings Rick and Pamela Fitzgerald (Ray Milland & Ruth Hussey) are vacationing at the Devon seacoast, they stumble upon an abandoned mansion that Pamela is drawn to and she persuades her reluctant newspaper music critic and composer brother to go partners in purchasing the house. The house is owned by the stern, tight-lipped Commander Beech (Donald Crisp), who is anxious to get rid of it because it has bad memories of where his daughter died (she mysteriously fell off the cliff) and there were complaints from the last tenants that the house is haunted. The Commander gives them a bargain price, but his sweet 20-year-old granddaughter Stella Meredith (Gail Russell) objects to having someone else own the house where her mom died.

As soon as the siblings move in, they receive ‘disturbances’ at night in Rick’s studio room. In the midst of trying to track down what the strange noises are and why the room turns clammy and cold, Rick shows a romantic interest in Stella. He even dedicates a musical serenade he composes to her entitled “Stella by Starlight.” By questioning Stella and Dr. Scott, the kindly country doctor, and conducting a seance, Rick learns that there were secrets in the manor regarding Stella’s mother and her artist father’s Spanish model. The secret is finally revealed by Miss Holloway (Cornelia Otis Skinner), who was a nurse for the three year old when her mom died (the last time Stella was allowed in the house). Miss Holloway now runs a private sanitarium, but gives one of those really loony rants that lets the “cat out of the bag” why there are two ghosts in the house–one trying to contact her daughter to warn her of danger and the other seeking vengeance.

Though not a perfectly realized eerie “old dark house” film it, nevertheless, achieves a realistically disturbing psychological mood and becomes one of those rare movies that is a genuine ghost story. This is accomplished mainly through the superb performances by all concerned (Gail Russell emerged as a star from this film) and creative camerawork by Charles Lang, who gives it a stunning film noir look.

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