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I (and my daughter) had waited many years to be able to see the surviving 50 minute print of Jack Hulbert's version of The Ghost Train, filmed in 1931 fresh from the stage, an unintentionally ghostly film - OK, maybe just to tick it off the list (Thark still remains top though)
finally getting round to it tonight. Well aware in advance of its
limitations in the entertainment department but having seen the Arthur Askey/Richard Murdoch version from 10 years later umpteen times we found it a doddle to get through. I think it was Leslie Halliwell who wrote that the 1941 version was almost a scene for scene remake of this with Jack's role split for Big & Stinker and the baddies being Russian gun runners but Fifth Columnists next time, so my top tip should be if you're really interested watch that one before embarking on this one.
Tale of group of rail passengers temporarily stranded at a remote station, facing a night there with a warning from the station master (Donald Calthrop 1931/Herbert Lomas 1941) concerning the probable appearance of a ghost train hurtling by, from and to who knows where. It was all I expected: hoary, stagey, melodramatic, marvellous, with so much to be reprised in 1941 even to the hairy sausage rolls in the refreshment room. Judging by occasional wobbles the copy we saw might have been taken in a BFI video booth, and the 5 surviving reels from 8 were out of running order the obvious thing was Cicely Courtneidge (Kathleen Harrison 1941) was laid to sleep off getting drunk before she'd drunk the doctor's brandy. At a guess the order we saw them were reels 2, 3, 6 (all silent) then 5, 8 (both with sound). It was fascinating for me and the daughter of course, but! What on Earth would a non-British first-timer make of it? If the BFI took the trouble to salvage this why didn't someone then watch it? And for a more complete incompleteness should I cut/re-join the pieces correctly?
The 1941 film was a star vehicle re-enactment, however the crash scene was re-used from this. Both Jack and Cicely were astonished with the amounts they were paid when they received their cheques - but it helped pay off the debts they'd incurred over the years on the stage, and made up their minds to stick with films while they could. And they did for another 10 years. Jack was as lively as usual but thankfully nowhere near as much as Big was in his version. Personally both films are great viewing, but viewing the remnants of this one is likely to be more of an ordeal to the unwary.
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