Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Music critic Ray Milland and his sister (Ruth Hussey) are vacationing in England. While hiking in the Cornish cliffs, their dog chases a squirrel into a big abandoned house overlooking the coast. Following him in, they fall in love with the house—he's looking for a place to write music and a bright, airy studio room in the place inspires him—and they make inquiries. Gail Russell tells them it's not for sale, but her grandfather (Donald Crisp) says it is. The story behind the house: years ago, Russell’s mother fell off a cliff and died; Crisp wants to put it behind them and get rid of the house, but Russell is reluctant to let others live there. Milland and Hussey move in and immediately odd things begin happening: some rooms suddenly turn cold, mysterious crying is heard in the middle of the night, the housekeeper sees strange figures, and the scent of mimosa, Russell's mother's favorite scent, suddenly appears out of nowhere. Milland and Russell start dating, and he and Hussey hold a fake séance to try and put Russell at ease, but it backfires when Russell lapses into a trance and starts speaking Spanish. A woman who worked as Russell's nurse years ago fills in some backstory, and it turns out that there may be two ghosts haunting the house: the dead mother and the gypsy woman who modeled for Russell's father, and at least one of them may be out to harm Russell.

This is widely renowned as one of the best (and first) Hollywood ghost stories. In the first half, we assume that this is a psychological thriller, but it turns out there really are ghosts—who mostly remain unseen, though there are a couple of visual manifestations. The tone of the movie is unusual: though it is definitely spooky, it is also fairly light, almost comic at times, until the fairly intense ending set on the cliffs. It took me a while to remember that Milland and Hussey were related because they sometimes come off a bit like a married couple—Nick and Nora Charles without the cocktails. The actors are all fine, but it's the mood and look that make this movie worth re-watching—the house and cliffs are memorable. Low-key but perfect Halloween viewing. [TCM]

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