(This review pertains to the UK DVD release. It has not been released in the USA as of this time)
The Uninvited (1944) directed by
of the most eagerly anticipated DVD releases of recent times, The Uninvited
is considered a classic ghost story, listed by both Martin Scorsese and current
genre favourite Guillermo Del Toro as one of the scariest films of all times.
Bearing some similarities in tone to Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940), the
film takes wind-swept coastlines and adds menacing spectral activity to the
potentially doomed love affair. The Uninvited was one of the first Hollywood
productions to present the idea of ghosts being real, and the special optical
effects used remain convincing and chilling to this day.
film is based on a popular novel by Dorothy Macardle, and the screenplay was
written by Dodie Smith, who went on to pen the original novel for 101
Dalmatians several years later. In the film Ray Milland plays Roderick, a
composer persuaded by his sister Pamela (Ruth Hussey) to buy a deserted house
atop a Cornish cliff. For reasons not explained, other than they both appear to
be single, they live together in this spacious abode despite the fact that a
woman died in mysterious circumstances twenty years earlier. Her daughter
Stella (Gail Russell) is strangely drawn to the house, ignoring the demands of
her over-bearing father to stay away. As if this was not enough, the sound of
weeping echoing around the house keeps them awake at night. To complicate
matters even further, Roderick falls in love with this young ingenue, and with
the help of his sister he is determined to get to the bottom of the haunting.
is nice to see Ray Milland in his younger 'leading man' years, shortly before
he won his Oscar for The Lost Weekend (1945), and well before he was
wallowing in the exploitation world of films like Frogs
and The Thing With Two Heads (both 1972, the latter with the immortal
tagline “They share the same body... but hate each other's guts!”) The
Uninvited is beautifully shot, using light and shadow to great
effect. Presented in the original Academy ratio of 1.33:1, it is crisp and
clear image. A Blu-ray release of this film would have been ideal, but this DVD
is more than welcome, and is better looking than any previous release bar its
original cinematic run.
its importance in the development of horror cinema, The Uninvited has
been difficult to see for many years, with only a VHS and laserdisc release to
speak of, and the occasional late-night TV airing. Although produced by
Paramount, the film is now owned by Universal along with the rest of their
pre-1948 library. The film has been licensed to independent distributor
Exposure Cinema, who also have three Fritz Lang film noir titles scheduled for
release. It is a pity that there are not more in-depth extras here, a
commentary track from a film historian for example, but it is still a good
package. Both radio adaptations of The Uninvited are included, from 1944
and 1949 respectively, which run for around thirty minutes each and star
Milland. They are fun to listen to as they follow the film very closely, but do
not manage to achieve the same level of fear in the audience. The most
significant additional extra is a substantial booklet featuring essays and
biographies. It is very well put together, featuring a lot of original artwork
and publicity material. Most of these images are also available in the stills
gallery section on the DVD.
Heist movies are like spaghetti dinners in that even the worst one is still pretty good. The Split, a 1968 crime caper, is very good indeed. Jim Brown, seen here at the pinnacle of his career, plays McClain, a petty crook who masterminds a high risk plan to rob the boxoffice and concession proceeds from a Los Angeles Rams football game. (Amusingly, the top price for a ticket during those days was $7.50, which could possibly buy you a hot dog at today's prices.). McClain follows the usual cinematic crime caper route by assembling a group of talented low-lifes as his confederates, each with their own specific talent for pulling off the crime. He also involves his estranged, gorgeous wife (Diahann Carroll), who wants nothing to do with the plan. She berates McClain for having abandoned her, but still can't resist being a push-over for him, especially when he takes off his shirt (a main staple of any Jim Brown film of the era). The cleverly-plotted caper is carried off relatively flawlessly in suspenseful scenes made all the more entertaining through the use of actual football game footage, a technique John Frankenheimer would employ a decade later for Black Sunday. Predictably, things fall apart in the aftermath, when the stolen loot is compromised, leading McClain's gang to mistakenly believe he has stolen it. To reveal what actually happens to the money would be to disclose too much, suffice it to say that it pertains to a completely unexpected plot device that effectively comes out of nowhere.
The film is stylishly directed by Gordon Flemyng, who was primarily known as a TV director, though he did helm the Doctor Who feature films as well as the top notch mercenary flick The Last Grenade. Fleming keeps the action moving at a fast pace and benefits from an extraordinary cast that includes such heavyweights as Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Julie Harris, Donald Sutherland, Jack Klugman, Gene Hackman and James Whitmore...that's right, all of these people are in one movie. In the 1960s, films routinely showcased such amazing talents collectively in films that were basically considered to be run-of-the-mill projects. Brown is at his tough guy best and each of these talented actors contributes significantly to the enjoyment of the movie.
The Split has plenty of unforeseen twists and turns, imaginative action sequences and a score by Quincy Jones. Largely unheralded, this is one of those films that probably plays far better today than it did at the time of its initial release. The Warner Archive has released it as a burn to order DVD that includes the original trailer. By all means, give it a try.