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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

THE CANTERVILLE GHOST (1944)

Oscar Wilde’s oft-filmed story was pummeled into a WWII pep talk for U.S. soldier boy Robert Young in this glossy, studio-bound wartime version from M-G-M. Stationed with his squad in England, Young discovers he’s the latest inheritor of the Canterville curse of cowardice. What’ll happen when he’s sent off to battle? Charles Laughton hams things up as the ghost who begat the jinx 300 years ago, still prancing about the joint now run by his descendant, 6 yr-old Margaret O’Brien, quivery of lip, loose of tear duct. Lapped up back in the day, its little lessons, forced comedy & sentiment now feel awful thick, though the prologue does offer a chance to see young Peter Lawford as Laughton’s kid brother. That’s a stretch! Jules Dassin took over the film when Laughton nixed original director Norman McLeod, but the film’s need for whimsy, and lots of it, was something neither of them specialized in.*

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *At M-G-M, Norman Taurog was the obvious choice as helmer, but with no credits between ‘43 and ‘46, he was presumably in service at the time.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Ian Richardson, Patrick Stewart, John Gielgud, Richard Kiley, Michael Redgrave & David Niven have all played the ghost, but a recently announced remake lists Hugh Laurie & Stephen Fry in its cast. (Who’ll be playing play the ghost?) Sounds promising, especially if they do it straight and unmodernized.

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