Hollywood Halloween: ‘The Canterville Ghost’

Looking for Hollywood movies to put you in the mood for Halloween? This classic should help you get into the holiday spirit.

The Canterville Ghost
1944
94 minutes
Available to buy on Amazon and Amazon Instant Video.
There are also countless dubious remakes to choose from, including one from 1996, starring Patrick Stewart and Neve Campbell.

Oscar Wilde, pro-American wartime propaganda, a spooky, ancestral British castle and a portly 17th-century specter make for a strange but pleasant combination in the classic comedy “The Canterville Ghost.”

I recently revisited this World War II-era reworking of Wilde’s short story courtesy of Turner Classic Movies. The network is dusting off classic ghost stories Thursday nights throughout the month of October.

I know I saw this eccentric little black and white comedy as a child, but I had forgotten how wacky it is. This is part of the film’s charm. It’s the sort of harmless haunt you can easily watch with the kids.

“The Canterville Ghost” stars classically trained stage and film actor Charles Laughton, hamming it up as the titular phantom, who shamed the family name by shirking his duty in a duel and was cursed to forever roam the halls of the clan’s stately, old mansion.

His pudgy belly draped in lacy period garb, a wild wisp of a mustache perched precariously atop his lips, Laughton makes for a comical sight, especially with the film’s “transparent” ghostly visual effects. (Before there was Nearly Headless Nick, there was this guy.) The movie’s more dated elements only add to the fun, especially once a troop of American GIs takes up residence in the castle.

The lady of the manor, the precocious, young Jessica (played by the adorably prim and proper Margaret O’Brien), warns the soldiers to be wary of the castle’s unwanted guest. They don’t believe her, of course, until the Canterville Ghost makes an appearance in an encounter that goes refreshingly against the grain of ghost story cliches. (You gotta hand it to those American GIs. They ain’t afraid of no ghosts.)

Merry slapstick ensues as Lady Jessica befriends good natured soldier Cuffy Williams (Robert Young), who might just be the man to break the Canterville curse.

Though the film is shamelessly patriotic, screenwriter Edwin Blum takes pleasure in poking fun at Americans and their lack of historical awareness. And the movie literally ends with a bang.

 

 

 

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