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GHOST TRAIN, THE (director: Walter Forde; screenwriters: Marriott Edgar/Val Guest/J.O.C. Orton/based on the play by Arnold Ridley; cinematographer: Jack E. Cox; editor: R.E. Dearing; music: Walter Goehr; cast: Arthur Askey (Tommy Gander), Richard “Stinker” Murdoch (Teddy Deakin), Kathleen Harrison (Miss Bourne), Peter Murray-Hill (R.G. Winthrop), Carole Lynne (Jackie Winthrop), Betty Jardine (Edna), Stuart Latham (Herbert Perkins), Morland Graham (Dr. Sterling), Raymond Huntley (Price), Saul Hodgkin (Herbert Lomas, stationmaster), Linden Travers (Julia Price), D.J. Williams (Ben Isaacs); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Edward Black; Nostalgia Video; 1941-UK)
“A fair example of how lowbrow Music Hall British comedy worked in the 1940s.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Ghost Train is a mystery/comedy remake of the lost 1931 version by Jack Hulbert and was shot at a studio in Shepherd’s Bush when the London Blitz was at its peak. It stars two popular Music Hall comedians, the nonsensical Arthur Askey and his stooge Richard ‘Stinker’ Murdoch (in some ways they are like Abbot & Costello). Director Walter Forde (“Charley’s Big-Hearted Aunt”/”Inspector Hornleigh on Holiday”/”Time Flies”) does a nice job with the pacing and keeping it looking like a ghost story for as long as possible. It’s based on the 1925 play by Arnold Ridley and was adapted to the screen by Marriott Edgar, JOC Orton and Val Guest.

Vaudeville comedian Tommy Gander (Arthur Askey) pulls the train’s emergency cord to stop the train so he can retrieve his bowler that fell out the window; this delay causes the seven other passengers to be angry at him because they’re left stranded at the remote Fal Vale junction in Cornwall as the train they were to make a connection with departed and another train isn’t due for nine hours. Forced to stay at the station overnight, during a heavy rain storm, the unfriendly stationmaster Saul Hodgkin (Herbert Lomas) tries to get them to leave. When he can’t, he tells them a scary ghost story about The Ghost Train tragic incident that took place forty-three years earlier in which a previous stationmaster had a heart attack and left a bridge open which caused a speeding train to crash into the river and now that ghost train hurtles through the station every night and all who see it are fated to die.

Those stuck in the waiting room include the nervous couple getting married tomorrow, Herbert Perkins (Stuart Latham) and Edna Hookey (Betty Jardine); the crabby, parrot toting teetotal spinster Miss Bourne (Kathleen Harrison); the boozer Dr. Sterling (Morland Graham); the arrogant upper-crust cricketer Richard (RG) Winthrop (Peter Murray-Hill); Richard’s sweet young cousin Jackie Winthrop (Carole Lynne); and the irksome Music Hall comedian Tommy Gander and his suave pal Teddy Deakin (Richard ‘Stinker’ Murdoch), both of whom are making a play for Jackie while Richard objects to their tawdry advances.

It turns out it’s not really a ghost tale but a tale about a gang of fifth-columnists running arms, who are routed by the obnoxious Tommy and his friend Teddy even though the gang does everything to make it look like a ghost story. They even have the villager’s Price (Raymond Huntley) and his sister Julia (Linden Travers) pull a scare act in the waiting room, to get the passengers to leave the station, telling how Julia’s gone raving mad after seeing the ghost train.

The film’s main problems are twofold: firstly its plot doesn’t add up, since if the smugglers really wanted the stranded passengers out of the way all they had to do was give them a bus ride to the nearby village; and, secondly, Askey’s comic antics were irritating and hardly funny. Nevertheless the film is a fair example of how lowbrow Music Hall British comedy worked in the 1940s.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”