Monday, October 19, 2015

Film Review: The Unseen

"The Unseen"  *** (out of ****)

"The Unseen" (1945) is considered to be director Lewis Allen's follow-up to his critically acclaimed ghost story "The Uninvited" (1944).

Unfortunately "The Unseen" has remained unseen by a large majority of the American movie going public. The movie hasn't even been put on DVD and is out of circulation on VHS. This is regrettable since "The Unseen" is not a movie which should be avoided.

I was never particularly a big fan of "The Uninvited". I found it somewhat slow moving and lacking in suspense. It did however give us the tune "Stella By Starlight" which I suppose is worth something. While it wouldn't be fair to compare "The Unseen" to "The Uninvited", as they are two different movies, I must say I found "The Unseen" to be a much more livelier picture.

The setting for "The Unseen" is similar to the prior movie. Both take place in big houses where the residents suspects someone or something is in the house with them. Both movies deal with murder but in "The Uninvited" there was a supernatural element to the story. In "The Unseen" we don't suspect ghosts are at play. This is more of a mystery movie.

Gail Russell stars as Elizabeth Howard, a 21 year old woman who has come to the Fielding residence to be employed as a caretaker for Mr. Fielding's (Joel McCrea) children; Ellen (Nona Griffith) and Barnaby (Richard Lyon). Ellen takes an instant liking to Elizabeth but Barnaby views Elizabeth as his enemy and even tells her so. Barnaby "loved" their previous nanny Maxine (Phyllis Brooks) and wants her to return to take care of them.

Elizabeth doesn't receive much support from Mr. Fielding, as he goes out almost every night and bad mouths his children, referring to them as "monsters" and constantly reciting Barnaby's bad traits to Elizabeth.

Mr. Fielding has his own troubled past. His wife was murdered two years ago and from what the viewer can gather, the police believed Mr. Fielding was a suspect. Raising the children has been difficult for him. He even tried to send the children to their grandmother, but she didn't discipline them, so they are back with their father.

The only person Mr. Fielding spends much time with is Dr. Evans (Herbert Marshall), who takes care of the children and is considered a family friend. He tries to tell Elizabeth about Mr. Fielding's past and to be patient with him.

Next door to the family is an abandoned home. Every night though young Barnaby looks out of his bedroom window staring at the house. One day he sees an elderly woman approach the home, staring intently at something and a man exit the home and chase after her. The next morning in the paper it is revealed a woman was murdered near by. Is this what Barnaby witnessed? We also learn Barnaby may be in communication with the killer.

"The Unseen" is based on the novel "Midnight House" written by Ethel Lina White with an adapted screenplay by Hagar Wilde and Raymond Chandler and was director Allen's fourth movie as director.

What works best in "The Unseen" is the mood the movie creates. There is genuine interest in finding out what exactly is going on. How will the events unfold. The screenplay for "The Unseen" creates a lot of suspense and tension. Is someone breaking into the house or is Elizabeth imagining things?

There are also a lot of good dialogue exchanges in the movie. Plenty of sarcastic remarks and witty banter between Dr. Evans and Mr. Fielding as they discuss his children and Elizabeth.

The choice of actors are good as well however this is kind of an odd role for me to see Joel McCrea in. We don't always see his character in the best light. I've always been used to seeing him in comedies; "He Married His Wife" (1940), "Sullivan's Travels" (1941) and "The More the Merrier" (1943) or playing heroes; Hitchcock's "Foreign Correspondent" (1940). The one remaining trait is his characters usually had a weary sense of humor.

Herbert Marshall, for me, is one of those actors that can do no wrong. He is always a pleasure to see on-screen although he is nearly wasted here, outside of a few witty remarks. Ultimately his character feels like an after thought not an essential character created to further develop the plot.

The movie has an ending which feels rushed and not fully developed. The very last line of dialogue Dr. Evans has is ridiculous. It is as if the writers simply gave up. They wanted to end the movie and didn't care to write anymore.  The movie is all build-up and poor execution.

It is also not fair to view this movie as a follow-up to "The Uninvited". The two movies have nothing to do with each other. This may cause some viewers not to like the movie as they will be comparing the two movies and may be prejudice since they really like "The Uninvited".

Despite some short comings there is enough in "The Unseen" to lead me to recommend it based upon a nice atmosphere created, some witty dialogue, the screen presence of Herbert Marshall, and a decent level of suspense.

The movie was also nominated for an Academy Award for best sound. It lost to "The Bells of St. Mary's" (1945). Which is well noted for its superior sound (I'm joking).