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Very, very loosely based on a short story by Oscar Wilde--so loosely
that he is probably turning in his grave--THE CANTERVILLE GHOST is a
charming bit of 1940s Hollywood fluff about an English ghost who runs
afoul of American pragmatism. In the film version, the Americans arrive
in the form of WWII soldiers, including Robert Young, who are billeted
at a notoriously haunted castle where they encounter a legendary
spectre much given to theatrical materializations.
Although the story is very, very slight, the cast makes it enjoyable. Child star Margaret O'Brien gives a typically enjoyable performance as the unwilling heiress to the castle, and Robert Young and his fellow actors mug their way through the script with entertaining aplomb. The greatest pleasure, however, is Charles Laughton as the ghost, which he plays most delightfully. The emphasis is on comedy rather than ghostly thrills, and although the comedy is quite mild it is expertly done. THE CANTERVILLE GHOST will never make any one's short list of "great cinematic art," but both grown-ups and kids alike will have a good time with it; recommended for an old fashioned family night.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
While there are few movies that I wholeheartedly endorse, this is definitely one of them. It has been a favorite since I was a child and it still is. It was a patriotic film in World War II to get our minds off of the horrors in Europe. Charles Laughton gives a superb performance as a 300+ year old ghost. It is very out of character for such a great dramatic actor, but slides into his comedic role effortlessly and flawlessly. The comedy duo of Charles Laughton and Robert Young in this film will never rank as high as Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy or even Hope and Crosby, but I see it as a brilliant discovery of comedy "chemistry". Had Hollywood developed this comedy team, I think we would see some Oscars from their efforts. This movie has a great plot, good character development, and fresh, clean comedy. This is a must for Margaret O'Brian fans. This is clearly her second best film (her best was "Meet Me in St. Louis"). If you are looking for space ships and aliens, you won't find any here. It's just great family entertainment.
This review is somewhat biased, as I am an avid Robert Young fan, and
have yet to see him in a less than stellar performance. Margaret
O'Brien is also splendid, and it is hard to believe so much talent
projects out of a six year old girl. Charles Laughton is memorable in
his fine delivery of both pathos and comedic skills.
A highlight of the film for me is the music played by the G.I.s. at a local party. Music is classic 40's 8 to the bar, visually punctuated with awesome jitterbugging by the soldiers. A proper female British spectator comments to an incredulous priest, "I believe they call it woogie boogie." It is unknown what what the song title or who the recording artists may have been, however credits list original music for the film as provided by George Bassman.
Sir Simon of Canterville gets roped into fighting a duel for his
cousin, realising he faces certain death he flees the field awash with
cowardice. His father is so enraged as to this stain on the family
honour he walls Simon up in the castle without food and water until
death does strike him down. He is doomed to haunt the Canterville
castle until a fellow member of the family can commit an act of bravery
and thus lift the cowardly stain that has besmirched the Canterville
Doesn't sound much like a comedy does it !!, but it is, and a very amiable one at that. Loosely based on Oscar Wilde's story of the same name, The Canterville Ghost benefits from a couple of charming performances from Charles Laughton as Simon, and from a young Margaret O'Brien as Lady Jessica de Canterville. Laughton is clearly enjoying himself as the ghost, heavy on the "woe is me" theatrics coupled with gusto comedy, it's a very enjoyable performance from the big man. O'Brien is here enjoying being the center of attention and she positively lights up every scene she is in with youthful exuberance. The story follows a well trodden path to its rewarding ending but it's a fun ride getting there regardless, things really pick up a pace once a platoon of American soldiers are billeted at the castle and we are introduced to Cuffy Williams (Robert Young), a descendant Canterville of course, but he himself is showing a line in cowardice, so we are then left wondering if Cuffy can indeed show bravery and thus free Simon from his ghostly duties ?.
The veteran Charles Laughton and a very young Robert Young team up in
this entertaining fantasy about the ghost of Simon de Canterville -
condemned to haunt the halls of his family's castle until a descendant
performs an act of bravery on his behalf. What's the catch? Simon was
condemned by his own father for being a coward, and the Canterville
line ever since has been a long line of cowards. (The greatest irony of
the movie is that Simon has developed a reputation as the most fearsome
ghost in all of England!) Finding a hero among this family won't be
easy. Then along comes Cuffy Williams (Young), an American soldier
whose platoon is billeted in the castle during the lead-up to D-Day. It
turns out that Williams is a very distant descendant of the
Cantervilles, and D-Day, of course, will provide the ultimate
opportunity to show his bravery and to release Simon from his torment.
The question is whether he'll be able to work up the courage to do it!
Laughton and Young offer excellent performances, and the very young Margaret O'Brien (who would have been about 7 when this was made) is convincing as Lady Jessica de Canterville. Some of the scenes as the American soldiers try to chase down the ghost to get a picture of him to prove that he exists to their commanding officer are also quite funny. 8/10
Margaret O'Brien tries to help one of her long-dead ancestors in "The
Canterville Ghost," a 1944 film also starring Charles Laughton, Robert
Young, and Frank Faylen. Jessica de Canterville's (O'Brien) family owns
a castle which is being used to house soldiers during their stay in the
area. The castle has a very famous ghost named Sir Simon de Canterville
(Charles Laughton) whose father had him imprisoned inside a wall for
cowardice centuries earlier. Simon roams the castle, looking like the
Cowardly Lion in royal costume. The only way he can rest for eternity
is if a relative performs a courageous act in his name, i.e., by taking
his signet ring and wearing it when he does the brave thing. Alas, the
entire family for centuries has run the other way when danger appears,
so Simon isn't having any luck. When six-year-old Lady Jessica de
Canterville realizes that one of the soldiers is related to her, she
begs him to help poor, tired Simon.
This is a wonderful movie, buoyed by the presence of Margaret O'Brien, surely one of the most adorable children to ever hit the screen. She's a fine actress, too - very sincere and natural. Although Mary Astor wrote in her diary that she was terrified of O'Brian during the filming of "Meet Me in St. Louis," it's kind of hard to believe. Charles Laughton turns in another masterful performance as Simon, who scares people because he thinks that as a ghost, it's what he should do. He's a riot. As Cuffy Williams, the soldier related to Jessica and Simon, Robert Young is very good as a man who begins to doubt his own courage.
"The Canterville Ghost" is loads of fun for the entire family, with plenty of comedy and some nice lessons, one of which is, when you really want something, you often need patience until you achieve it.
Charles Laughton who made a career of playing tortured and twisted men
goes one better here as Sir Simon de Canterville who haunts stately
Canterville Manor until another Canterville performs a heroic deed and
frees him from being earthbound.
The first part of the film shows the incident where Sir Simon turns tail and runs from a duel he got involved in. Out of shame and embarrassment, his father bricked him up in a room in the manor and pronounced the aforementioned curse upon him.
Breaking that curse is easier said than done because the cowardice was passed down several generations from Stuart England to World War II.
Enter a platoon of American rangers quartered at the manor house where the current lady of the manor, Margaret O'Brien is like so many in Great Britain in those years, playing host to American GIs. One in that platoon is a distant cousin from America, Robert Young. Will he perform the deed that frees Charles Laughton? Watch the film and find out.
Robert Young and Margaret O'Brien are fine, but it is the multi-talented Mr. Laughton who carries this film. This is a difficult part and only an actor of real talent and skill could carry it off. The comic elements are nicely done, but Laughton also has to project an air of resigned sadness at the fate he's been cursed with. And Mr. Laughton bares the tortured soul of Simon de Canterville for all to see.
This is a story originally written by Oscar Wilde and nicely updated for World War II moviegoers. And it's still a fine piece of film making for today's audience.
Okay, I'm the first to admit this movie has almost nothing to do with Wilde's original story, but I can't help loving it. Like most versions of the story, this one is adapted for the time it was made in, so this one revolves around war and bravery. When I was eight years old I forced my entire birthday party to watch this movie and every year after they all always wanted to watch it. It's been a long time since I 've had a birthday party like that, but some of those friends have even gone out and bought the movie since then. We all had a little crush on Robert Young in this. Margaret O'Brian is fabulous sneaking around the Ghost's room and doing her bob of a curtsy. And of course Charles Laughton spitting in at the portraits of his cowardly kinsmen. The comedic timing is wonderful and there are great one liners. Best line: "I believe they call it woogie boogie".
This, the first film version of Oscar Wilde's short story "The
Canterville Ghost", was made by M-G-M during World War II, and, like
some other films of that period based on literary or theatrical works,
tries to incorporate some good old American (and British) flag-waving
into its charming original story, which, as in all the TV versions
(this is the only theatrical one) updates it to the twentieth century;
when will someone do a good film version of the story in its original,
Fortunately, the story isn't tampered with enough to ruin it, and one of the film's virtues is Charles Laughton in the title role.
Proving what a great actor can bring to an average screenplay, Laughton hams it up outrageously in his comical first scene, in which his character, Sir Simon de Canterville, is still alive, but he later shows a deep sensitivity in the later scenes in which he expresses terror during his murder and quiet despair at his fate.
In order to incorporate some war heroics, a platoon of American soldiers has been incorporated into the story, and Laughton's descendant (Robert Young) must perform a heroic deed in order to break the curse that Laughton has been placed under. Some rather broad serviceman comedy has been incorporated into the story as well, courtesy of "Rags" Ragland and Frank Faylen (Dobie Gillis's dad on the TV series). It is Faylen who gets to deliver the film's most topical line--not having seen the ghost yet, he asks his fearful platoon, "What are you going to do when you have to face Nazis?" (What would Oscar Wilde have thought?)
Robert Young is his usual pleasant self as Laughton's descendant, and child star Margaret O'Brien isn't nearly as revoltingly syrupy as you might fear.
But it is Laughton's way with both sentiment and comedy that really makes the film worth watching, and it is worth watching.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Is this a faithful adaptation of the Oscar Wilde classic? Don't know,
never read it. This is though, a silly and entertaining movie that can
be enjoyed by the whole family.
This was my first introduction to Margaret O'Brien and she won me over with her sweet charm. As a platoon of U.S. soldiers hold up in the haunted Canterville castle, they are excited by the news that they are to be welcomed by Lady Jessica de Canterville herself. The boys are surprised when Lady Jessica happens to be a 3-1/2' tall 6-year-old. She plays hostess to the GI's and tells them of the residing ghost. Their disbelief is soon tested by the late night antics of Sir Simon (Charles Laughton), who has inhabited the castle in his ghostly form for over 300 years. He has been condemned to this state of purgatory for his cowardice which can only be relieved by a blood descendant performing an act of bravery in his stead.
Having seen Charles Laughton in 'The Private Life of Henry VIII', 'Mutiny on the Bounty' and 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame', I was surprised to see him in this role as a clumsy, silly ghost. As usual, he is wonderful. A master thespian who can handle comedy as well as drama.
I highly recommend this film to anyone young or old who just wants an hour and a half of amusement.
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