The Canterville Ghost (1944)
“It puts you in the best of spirits!”
Director: Jules Dassin
Cast: Charles Laughton, Robert Young, Margaret O’Brien
Synopsis: In the 1600s, cowardly Sir Simon of Canterville flees a duel and seeks solace in the family castle. His ashamed father seals him in the room where he is hiding and dooms him to life as a ghost until one of his descendants performs a brave deed.
Lord only knows what dear old Oscar would make of this wartime update of his Victorian story; never having read his original version it’s perhaps unfair of me to speculate but I can’t help believing he would never have pictured his minor classic being overtaken by a troop of wise-cracking GI’s and a juvenile female lead so sweet she makes you cringe.
Charles Laughton is right at home as the ghost of cowardly Sir Simon de Canterville, cursed by his father to haunt the halls of the family home until an ancestor performs an act of bravery in his name. Laughton has never seemed to be adequately recognised for his diverse choice of roles and versatile performances, perhaps because his physical appearance did not fit the accepted ‘movie-star’ mould. His comedy work – with the exception of ‘Hobson’s Choice’ – has been especially overlooked.
Robert Young also provides a pleasing performance, skilfully merging the two sides of his character (easy-go-lucky everyman/borderline coward) and injecting a sense of pathos in what is otherwise a fairly broad comedy.
Of course, the special effects, while probably impressive in their day, look very dated today (note the state of Canterville’s disembodied head when he plants it back onto his shoulders) but, that aside, this is an enjoyable comedy that, while rarely prompting belly laughs, should raise plenty of appreciative smiles.
(Reviewed 25th January 2002)