An old-fashioned, and by now, very old ghost story. Notable for its strong cast and witty dialogue. The Fitzgerald siblings Roderick ‘Rick’ (Ray Milland) and Pamela (Ruth Hussey) buy a sea-side house from Commander Beech (Donald Crisp). The great deal belies a bit of a secret: the old dark house comes with two feuding ghosts, the mother and step-mother of local girl Stella Meredith (Gail Russell). Sensing that Stella is in some danger, the Fitzgeralds team up with Dr. Scott (Alan Napier) to get to the bottom of the ghost business. Roderick, meanwhile, takes to Stella for good old romantic purposes.
Beech is overly protective of Stella; not wanting her to mingle with Rick and Pam; he’s fundamentally concerned that she keep her distance from Winwood. She eventually finds her way there anyway. Some spooky crying in the night “It comes from everywhere, nowhere” Pam asserts.
The light-hearted stuff (Stella hiding from grandpa in Rick’s car, Rick hiding under the covers after hearing the crying) is not relieving tension, just deflating preceding suspense. Once in a while candles flicker; the staircase in particular seems to be a touchy place. Stella almost hurls herself off the cliff after being spooked. Lizzie sees a ghost; Stella passes out in a lonely room upstairs. Then, just before dawn, the scent of mimosa. “Don’t you know who it is in your house, it’s my mother” Stella tells them. The crying comes back.
Rick has the quick idea to carry Stella away–from grandpa, Winwood, the ghosts–to London. Stella is upset “I can’t think about you, not while she’s (mother’s ghost) there!” They consult Dr. Scott and decide to have a seance. A tabletop has to make do for the Ouija board. Stella goes into a trance, speaking Spanish. All sorts of poltergeist stuff happening. They learn that her mother is guarding her from something. A ghostly figure starts to appear; but Beech bursts in, upsetting the mood.
Beech dismisses the doctor, in favor of Miss Holloway (Cornelia Otis Skinner); she was a friend of Mary, as well as Stella’s nurse. Holloway seems to have been obsessed with the departed one, invoking Mary’s portrait “The poor lady who went off the cliff” as the maid Lizzie (Barbara Everett) puts it. Meanwhile, Stella’s basically kidnapped by Holloway.
Pam and Rick look in on Holloway (not so surprisingly, her asylum is named after Stella’s mother, and also displays a copy of her portrait). More goofy stuff from a somewhat batty patient. Stella absconds from Holloway’s domain. Anyway, she refers to Carmel contempuously as “that Spanish gypsy.” She goes on to say that Carmel tried to steal Mary’s husband, followed her to England, killed Mary and tried to kidnap Stella. Carmel died soon thereafter from pneumonia.
Thanks to the doctor’s diligence with his predecessor’s records, the Fitzgeralds find out that Holloway exposed Carmel to the cold to make sure that she would die. In fact Carmel was Stella’s mother; Stella had been spirited off, so to speak, when she was an infant by her step-mother, Mary. That explains the origin of the ghostly dispute: Stella’s real mother wants her back.
The denouement back at Winwood is easily the best part of the movie. Beech had a bit of a stroke; Stella walks in on him “be afraid, for heaven’s sake” he tells her, as the ghost appears to her. Stella nearly pitches herself off the cliff again. Grandpa dies after seeing the ghost. Pam and Rick show up just in the nick of picnic to help Stella. Just as Stella starts to think she’s imagined the ghostly stuff, the poltergeist trappings begin…more reading of the notes indicates more info about Carmel and Stella.
Rick goes up those unhappy stairs to confront the most complete manifestation of the ghost. “From now on this house is for the living!” he declares as Mary’s ghost vanishes. On the door step, he and Stella embrace. In the distance, a clearing sky.
This is very entertaining. The special effects are well-realized; the ghost looks exactly like what we think a ghost would look like, it’s defined just enough to be both creepy and dreamlike. I wish it showed up more. In fact, with the long build-up to the supernatural happenings, the cheap bits of camp, and a few time-outs at the asylum, the great atmosphere of Winwood is underused.
Farmermouse thought the dog and squirrel chase was cool, so he gives this eight ouija boards. 8/10.