Monday, November 9, 2009

The Ghost West (1935) or Kilts a go-go

Murdoch Glaurie and his stylin' pimp bonnet break hearts across three centuries.

While it's a stretch to call The Ghost Goes West a horror movie, it was one of the first films in the horror comedy sub-genre and certainly one of the first of that ilk to be a huge hit. Believe it or not, this mostly forgotten little gem was the number one box-office draw in Britain in 1936 and arguably inspired Hal Roach studios to invest in Topper the next year.

The story opens in 18th century Scotland with the back story of our ghost, Murdoch Glaurie (Robert Donat) who was more interested in making time with the ladies than making war on English invaders. He's a lover not a fighter who is killed in a wacky friendly fire incident and condemned to haunt his family's castle until he can avenge his honor. Flash forward to 1930s Scotland and Donald Glaurie (also Donat) is what Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park would describe as a " poor honorable." Glaurie castle is falling down around him, creditors stalk him and his ambulatory ancestor has scared away most of his servants. So it's no surprise that when pretty Peggy Martin (Jean Parker), daughter of an American millionaire expresses interest in buying the old dump, her offer seems like manna from heaven. It's not till later that Donald learns that the new owner plans to move the castle to Florida and put a radio into one of his suits of armor. To add to the hijinx, the amorous ghost takes a liking to Peggy and manages to prove that 18th century moves are pretty darn effective with modern girls. Peggy assumes that the ghost is actually Donald in disguise (further confusion is added by the fact that at the end of the film Donald does disguise himself as the ghost) and goes for the role playing until the ghost proves to be too much of a playa for her.

The effects are all solid, if humdrum by today's standards and the action is ably managed by highly-respected French director Rene Clair, in his first English-language film. The comedy is further helped by Eugene Pallette who plays the crass millionaire with appropriate clueless brio, and Morton Selten who has a small but memorable role as Murdoch's crotchety dad, just known as The Glaurie. Jean Parker is an able comedian and actress who made a number of under-rated movies like this one that are well-regarded by those that have actually seen them (Lady for a Day, Operator 13, Gabriel over the White House).

Donat, as usual, is wonderful, managing a slight Scottish accent for the ghost and a generic public school one for Donald. He seems to really relish playing the lady-killing spector though he gives his lines a completely natural reading that makes them even funnier. As Donald he is a bit Mr. Chips-y adding a subtle layer of awkwardness and shyness to his character that is always appealing. One gets the feeling that this guy would never get to first base if the ghost wasn't unwittingly playing on his team. Audiences in Britain at the time ate up the sub-text that things were just plain better in the past and that being of noble heritage will not necessarily get you laid. Moat ownership, as those who've followed the news from the old country this past summer, is not what it used to be.

So not much remains to be said about this movie, except for me to drag out the eye candy, which predictably, is mostly kilt-related.

Eye Candy: Kilts a gogo

There are so many kilts in this movie. At one point an entire Afro-caribbean Jazz orchestra is outfitted in clan tartans.

I just love the look of complete disdain on Donat's face here. The not-so subtle anti-Yank sentiment in this movie is probably one of the reasons it wasn't a huge hit in America.

Best fake newspaper plot advancement headline ever! People just don't use the phrase "highhat" enough anymore.

The ghost says goodbye. I love Clair's shadowy cinematography. He manages just the right amount of romantic gloom for the Glaurie castle sets.

This is bordering on gratuitous, but I love me some kilts!


Sarah said...

You had me at "stylin' pimp bonnet'! This entry is laugh-out-loud and now I have to see this film. Love me some Donat! Thanks for the review!

kda0121 said...

Donat really seems to having fun in this one. I like it quite a bit.

Shaon said...

Oh my god what a funny and horror movie this is! I like this type of classic movie.
I am looking for this type of movie for few days.
Thank you for your nice blog post.
I am really happy to see your blog.
Best of luck to you.
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Joanne said...

Very amusing post!! Enjoy your sense of humor but this movie is not really my cup of tea, thanks.
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Juliette said...

I lauged! This really is going to be a hoot! Must see.

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Ross said...

It is a great film, I actually watched with my grandfather a few weeks ago, it is one of his favorite films.