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CANTERVILLE GHOST, THE (director: Jules Dassin; screenwriters: based on an Oscar Wilde story/Edwin Blum; cinematographer: Robert Planck; editor: Chester W. Schaeffer; music: George Bassman; cast: Charles Laughton (Sir Simon de Canterville), Robert Young (Private Cuffy Williams), Margaret O’Brien (Lady Jessica de Canterville), William Gaigan (Sergeant Benson), ‘Rags’ Ragland (Big Harry), Reginald Owen (Lord Canterville), Donald Stuart (Sir Valentine Williams), Elizabeth Risdon (Mrs Polverdine), Una O’Connor (Mrs. Umney), Frank Faylen (Lt. Kane), Mike Mazurki (Metropolus), Peter Lawford (Anthony de Canterville); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Arthur L. Fields; MGM; 1944-UK)
“Its purpose was to foster good will between the UK and the USA.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Corny, cuddly and whimsical comedy ghost story, with no scares, by way of an Oscar Wilde short story–though veering far off course from his droll comedy of manners (the original story showed the hypocrisy of an American minister who buys the Canterville castle, something MGM wasn’t prepared to film as its purpose was to foster good will between the UK and the USA). It was made during wartime and released a month before the D-Day invasion. Director Jules Dassin (“Never On Sunday”/ “Topkapi”/”Brute Force”) got his first shot at an “A” film as he replaced the fired Norman Z. McLeod in the first week of filming after the star, Charles Laughton, requested that the studio fire McLeod because he didn’t think the director got the story right. Some six years later, Dassin was blacklisted as a Commie by HUAC.

In 1634, in England, when the brother of the portly Sir Simon de Canterville (Charles Laughton), Anthony de Canterville (Peter Lawford), secretly weds the bride promised to Sir Valentine Williams, he’s challenged to a duel. Since Anthony has been wounded by hunters, he gets his brother to accept the challenge in his place. On the day of the duel, the runt-like Sir Valentine fakes a wound and gets his burly cousin to replace him. The cowardly Sir Simon flees to his home and his ashamed father (Reginald Owen), who will not have his family name besmirched, has him walled-up in the alcove of the Canterville castle where he was hiding. For the next 300 years Sir Simon becomes famous as the ghost of the haunted castle. During WWII, the castle has been inherited by the six-year old Lady Jessica de Canterville (Margaret O’Brien). Her caretaker, the kindly and regal wheelchair-bound aunt (Elizabeth Risdon), invites a platoon of American Rangers to be housed there. The tough GIs are not frightened by the ghost who appears at night, and chase him away in fright (turning the table on the usual ghost tale). The next day, one of the GIs, the outwardly cocky Pvt. Cuffy Williams (Robert Young), introduces Lady Jessica to the frightened and lovable friendly ghost and the ghost tells them his sad tale of woe. Sir Simon says he’s searching for a kinsman to perform an act of bravery in his name so he can no longer be condemned as a ghost and be free to die. It’s verified that Cuffy has the Canterville birthmark on his neck and is therefore revealed as a long-lost Canterville descendant who can help his uncle out of his dilemma. Cuffy, when in the battlefield, has to overcome the families long history of cowardly running away from battle, and after an initial failure accomplishes his mission when the opportunity arises to save his outfit from a Nazi bomb delivered by a parachute.

It was always remade in a whimsical anti-Wilde way as made-for-TV movies in: 1966, 1974, 1985, 1986, 1996 and 1997.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”