Friday, March 27, 2015

Ghost Watch: The Ghost Goes West (1936)

So, over the years I've occasionally seen the movie The Ghost Goes West (1936) referenced in passing, but nobody ever mentioned what it was about.  Just like "oh, he played stevedore #4 in The Ghost Goes West" sorts of comments.  And I always wondered:  what the hell genre is a movie called "The Ghost Goes West"?  What could it even possibly be about?

This poster is a nightmare of design, but I like it

I actually suspected it was about some sort of colorfully named detective leaving the East Coast and going to California.  And I was totally, utterly wrong.

I also wanted to see this movie because it's a surviving film that contains a young Elsa Lanchester, and you really don't see her in all that much that isn't her mute role in Bride of Frankenstein, so I was curious.  

Not a single hiss will she give

Not about a detective at all, the movie begins a few hundred years before 1935ish as a young Scotsman brings shame upon his family through his cowardice and womanizing instead of manly English fighting and fighting the neighboring clan.  His cowardice leads to his accidental death (don't hide behind exploding things, kids), and he is cursed to haunt his Family castle until he can make someone from the rival clan swear that 1 of his can whup 50 of their'n.  

Flash forward to the intermission between World Wars, and things are going poorly for the ghost, who hasn't managed to end his curse.  Things also go poorly for the family that owns the castle, as the last heir is a destitute fellow who happens to look exactly like his ancestor, the ghost.

Enter Americans who loudly decide to buy up the castle and move it to Florida.  Romance between destitute Scotsman and pretty, rich, castle-happy American ensues.  The castle is moved and the ghost goes west to Florida.  This being a UK-based film, Florida is, of course, considered west.  So, there you go.

It's a bit of a romantic comedy/ supernatural funfest.  And curiously undated.  You could goose this script a bit, put Jeffrey Jones in the Eugene Pallette part, and you'd be fine.  Heck, cast that sparkly vampire guy as the ghost/ the love interest, and you could print money.  

Lanchester is not the pretty young American, that's played by Jean Parker in a pretty typical pretty-young-girl role of the era.  Instead, Lanchester shows up in the 3rd reel as a party guest waiting to see if there's going to be a ghost, but she has actual speaking lines, so good for her.    

This is pretty light, fluffy stuff and straightforward and enjoyable enough.  Elements have been copied in one form or another (think Beetlejuice*) plenty of times, so getting to see one of the original versions of the story may feel somewhat slight, but it was a pretty good movie, and for the time, the effects are a-ok. 

As this is a UK-produced movie, be on the lookout for some American stereotypes from our brash exuberance to coarse flaunting of wealth and gangster violence out of nowhere played to comedic effect.  And, of course, some pretty obvious Scots-stereotypes about money-grubbing are key to the second reel.  All in good fun, I guess.  And you can almost see where Scrooge McDuck's rivalry with Flintheart Glomgold may have gotten a seed of inspiration.

I enjoyed it.  Not going to be for everyone.  Nowhere near enough Elsa Lanchester, but there seldom is.


*I want to note, I justs ort of thought of Jeffrey Jones out of thin air as a "go to good-natured fatherly type you can see getting overly excited" before I even remembered - that's who he played in Beetlejuice.

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