Gilbert Speaks on Three Classic Ghost Films

28 Oct


I love ghosts! I’ve been seeing them since I was a toddler. Whenever Turner Classic Movie Channel has one of its classic ghost films featured, I always make a point to watch. This week, I was lucky to catch three ghostly classics. Will they make it into my Granny’s Insomnia Theatre Collection?

The Canterville Ghost

The 1944 classic “The Canterville Ghost” was directed by Jules Dassin, and stars Robert Young, Charles Laughton, and the very talented Margaret O’Brien is more comedy than fright fest. The film is based on a novella written by Oscar Wilde.


Sir Simon de Canterville must defend his brother’s honor as written in the seventeenth century Code of Chivalry because Simon’s brave brother, Anthony (a very young Peter Lawford), had been injured and unable to duel in his own name. Although all the Canterville knights are known for their bravery, Simon is anything but brave. In fact, Simon is a big ole coward who hides in a closet. Lord Canterville is so upset with Simon that he has his son walled up inside the closet. Simon’s father also places a curse on him. Simon (Charles Laughton) will find no eternal rest until “A Kinsman performs and act of bravery in his name.” Needless to say, no acts of courage are performed in Simon’s name because all his relatives are just as cowardly.

Lady Jessica

We jump ahead to modern times and World War Two where the United States Army Rangers are billeted in the Canterville castle. The owner of the castle is a delightful six-year-old Lady Jessica de Canterville played by the fabulously talented Margaret O’Brien.


I’ve always been a big fan of Shirley Temple’s films, but I need to rave about the excellent and believable acting done by child star, Margaret O’Brien. Margaret stole the show, and she was acting against seasoned actors like Laughton, Robert Young, and Rags Ragland.


Margaret wants to help Simon escape the curse placed on him, and after she realizes that one of the soldiers is a descendent of the Cantervilles she enlists the help of Simone to encourage Cuffy Williams (Robert Young) and the other soldiers to break the curse. Can Cuffy get past his own fears to save the town and free Simon? Watch the film to find out, but this little gem did make it into my collection.

The Woman in White

The 1948 “The Woman in White” is more of a crime drama than a ghost story and stars Alexis Smith, Eleanor Parker, Sydney Greenstreet, and Gig Young. Commissioned to art lessions to the sister of Frederick Fairlie (John Abbott), Walter Hartright (Gig Young) meets a mysterious lady in white as he walks from the train station to the Fairlie castle. Upon reaching the castle, he meets Marian (Alexis Smith) who is the cousin to the Fairlie family, and Count Fosco (Sydney Greenstreet) a rather pompous guest and friend to Frederick.


Although Frederick is a weak and confused man, who we suspect is controlled by Fosco, his niece Laura Fairlie (Eleanor Parker) is a bright and beautiful woman. Marian, on hearing Walter’s encounter with the woman in white, tells Walter about a distant cousin named Ann Catherick. Ann (Eleanor Parker) came to spend the summer as a child, but then mysteriously disappeared.


Although Walter has feelings for Laura, she is engaged to a wicked man, Sir Percival Glyde (John Emery) who is after all Laura’s money. Walter leaves for Italy, but not before seeing the woman in white once more. Ann tells Walter that Fosco had her forcibly committed to an asylum because she heard him and Glyde planning to steal the Fairlie fortune.

This is a sit of the edge of your seat drama, and up to the very end you wonder if Laura will survive Glyde’s and Fosco’s plans to murder her. Great film, and this also made it into my collection.

Blithe Spirit

The 1945 comedy “Blithe Spirit” based on a Noel Coward play and starring Rex Harrison Constance Cummings, Kay Hammond, and Margaret Rutherford, reminds us that séances can open the door to mischievous spirits.


When a writer, Charles Condomine (Rex Harrison) needs material for a mystery he is working on, he and his wife Ruth (Constance Cummings) have an eccentric medium come to the house to entertain them and their guests George and Violet. Madame Arcati, played by the talented Margaret Rutherford, is a hoot to observe as she goes through all kinds of gyrations to get a spirit to appear. Unfortunately, Charles’s first wife, Elvira shows up and refuses to leave. Poor Ruth is ready to wage war with the dearly departed first Mrs. Condomine (Kay Hammond) and seeks the help of Madame Arcati to rid herself of Elvira.


As a psychic/medium, and a professional ghost investigator, nothing in this film does true service to the gift of mediumship or the practice of séances, but that’s okay because Margaret makes this film enjoyable. There is a surprise ending, which I won’t reveal. The film was okay, but not in the category of the first two, so sorry to say, Blithe Spirit will not be included in my collection.

You can catch all three films on TCM this month.

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