Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Canterville Ghost

I've mentioned before that I'm not much of a fan of Margaret O'Brien. Still, some of her movies are worth a watch in spite of her. One example of this would be The Canterville Ghost, airing overnight tonight at 12:15 AM. Charles Laughton shows once again that he could even do comedy.

Laughton plays the title character, a ghost who's been haunting a British manor house for 300 years. What happened is that back in the 1600s, pre-ghost Laughton disgraced the family name in an astonishing act of cowardice. So his father declared a curse upon the family: Laughton's ghost is doomed to haunt the estate, until one of the descendants can perform an act of heroism.

Fast forward 300 years. It's now the middle of World War II, and the mistress of the house is young Lady Canterville, played by seven-year-old Margaret O'Brien. There's no way she can perform an act of bravery. Indeed, there's not much way she can even afford the upkeep on the place, which is why she's given it over to a bunch of those damnable US army men. Laughton tries to haunt them, but orders are orders, and there isn't any way they're leaving. That actually turns out to be a good thing, when it's discovered that one of the American soldiers (Robert Young) is a distant relative of the Cantervilles. Surely he being in the Army can perform an act of bravery. Or can he?

The Canterville Ghost is worthy mostly for Laughton's performance. O'Brien is slightly less irritating than normal, largely because the script isn't so much about her character. Robert Young is passable. The more I think about him, the more I think he comes across as somebody who was OK, and filled the need Hollywood had for nice people who could churn out movie after movie, but always looks like a cheap imitation of Robert Montgomery. No; this is definitely Laughton's movie, and he looks like he's having a blast.

The Canterville Ghost is probably also a reasonably good movie for kids (not having any myself, I don't know children's tastes all that well), who are probably less likely to be put off by O'Brien, and definitely likely to enjoy Laughton's antics.

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