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Delightful ghost story based on a classic tale
on February 26, 2003
Based on a short story by non other than the legendary Oscar Wilde this version of the "The Canterville Ghost" makes really delightful viewing boasting top notch production values, a superb cast in fine form, and a terrific look that gives the film an appealing and enjoyable appearance.
Being in theory a ghost story the story is full of much well seasoned comedy and really is a film suitable for the whole family to enjoy. I tend to watch this film around Christmas each year and never fail to enjoy the high spirited carryings on of Charles Laughton in what I feel is one of his most appealing roles. "The Canterville Ghost", set in one of those far off misty castles that only MGM could cunger up, tells the story of how Sir. Simon de Canterville through an act of cowardice is walled up in a room of the castle and is doomed to walk the face of the earth for all eternity unless a relative can commit an act of bravery to lift the curse from him. The story jumps ahead a few centuries to the present (1944) where the castle is occupied by visiting soldiers involved in the war. Among them is Sir. Simon's distant relative Cuffy Williams (Robert Young at his most endearing) who is the one selected to perform the brave deed to free his ancestor from his ghostly imprisonment. The tale is an amusing one as Laughton's character first tries to scare and then win over his cynical relative to help him. Charles Laughton is wonderful as the cowardly ghost appearing out of nowhere, screaming, rattling chains and showing his own failings only too obviously. He is surrounded by a terrific supporting cast beginning with gifted child actress Margaret O'Brien as Lady Jessica de Canterville the present owner of the castle. O'Brien, at the peak of her career around this time with triumphs in "Journey for Margaret", and "Meet Me in St. Louis", is a cute delight as the spunky little girl who is not afraid of Laughton's over the top bellowing and corny scare tactics. Robert Young in his last MGM film is also in top form as the young soldier who first is in danger of falling into the same habits as Sir. Simon but who in the end comes through to succeed in freeing his ancestor from his ghostly sentence by an unselfish act of bravery.
"The Canterville Ghost" is about as English a tale as you can get and came along during the war years when all things British were revered in Hollywood. Keeping company with such British outings as "Mrs. Miniver", and "The White Cliffs of Dover", "Canterville' also boasts a superb supporting cast of stalwart British performers so popular in Hollywood during these years. Headed by Laughton himself the film contains great work by the likes of Reginald Owen, Una O'Connor and Peter lawford who give just that right British feel to a production which because of the war had to be filmed in the USA. Technically the film is a superb achievement with Laughton's ghostly special effects a remarkable effort. The sight of Laughton disappearing through walls and flying across a room remind one of that great 1930's ghost story "Topper". Being a product of MGM the film boasts top flight production values in every department and has superb settings with the castle interiors appearing wonderfully spooky and beautiful on the eye.
Among the many versions filmed of "The Canterville Ghost", I feel this is by far the best. Centred on Charles Laughton's unforgettable ghost the production is enjoyable and a fun way to spend a couple of hours. Before computers created all the special effects this film proved what the old Hollywood was capable of achieving. A totally delightful film to be enjoyed by the whole family.