Have you ever worked on a project that suffered from constant interference from your boss?
Some bosses can’t help themselves, we suppose. They hire a talented individual then insist on micromanaging them, which is almost never a good idea.
One of those films was The Ghost Goes West (1935), about a ghost doomed to haunt his family’s ancestral castle – even when an American millionaire buys said castle, dismantles it, and reassembles it in Florida.
This was one of the top-grossing films in Britain in 1936, although why it was is beyond us. Despite a charming premise and a terrific first half, the film soon stumbles over inconsistent pacing and lack of momentum.
The most frustrating thing is not the plot holes; it’s the film’s refusal to Run Amok with some potentially hilarious situations. It feels like it wants to be a screwball comedy, but can’t be bothered.
The Ghost Goes West was Clair’s first English-language film, and that may account for some of its awkwardness, but there’s also producer Korda’s meddling. He was notorious for fiddling with his directors’ projects, including this one, where he reworked some of Clair’s completed scenes.
Happily, the film stars the dashing and popular British actor, Robert Donat, so All is Not Lost.
Donat plays dual roles, the first being an eighteenth-century Scottish nobleman more interested in seducing women than going to war against the English. But when he’s blown to smithereens by an errant cannon ball, he’s forced to spend eternity wandering around Glourie Castle, his ancestral home.
The only way out of this purgatory is to exact revenge on a member of his rival clan to resuscitate the good name of the Glouries.
Donat’s second role is the twentieth-century Glourie, the last member of the clan, who lives in the now rundown castle, dodging creditors and trying to unload the property for quick cash.
(Note: Apparently there were American millionaires in the early twentieth century who really did buy European castles and reconstruct them in the U.S.)
Pallette can’t wait to incite envy in his grocery store competitor, while his self-proclaimed psychic wife senses a weird vibe about the place. Our gal Parker flirts with both the modern and antique Donat, and that makes her the busiest person in the film.
News of the impending sale is gladly welcomed by Donat’s creditors, who donate their goods and services to a sumptuous sales-pitch banquet for the Americans, resulting in one of the funniest scenes in the film.
But! The Glourie ghost makes an appearance at the castle each midnight, so the modern Donat must hide this supernatural quirk from the Americans.
Donat is very funny as the ancient Glourie, a ladies’ man with cheesy pick-up lines – even for the 1700s. He plays this character with gusto in the first half of the film, but his character loses steam when he starts to ask pater Glourie (an ethereal micromanager based in heaven) about every stinkin’ decision.
Donat-the-modern Glourie has a natural screen presence; he doesn’t appear to be Acting at all. His dual roles allow him to be both the comic and the straight man in this environment of ambitious Americans and grumbling creditors.
The Ghost Goes West has delightful characters – especially the competitive Pallette and the underutilized Elsa Lanchester – but even these folks can’t save the film. We feel the whole thing ultimately accomplishes little, despite an amusing twist at the end, but you may disagree.
Even so, it’s a must for Robert Donat fans. In an atmosphere of micromanagement, you need this kind of suave, dashing Brit.
This post is part of the The ROBERT DONAT Blogathon, hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films.
The Ghost Goes West: starring Robert Donat, Jean Parker, Eugene Pallette. Directed by René Clair. Written by Robert Sherwood. London Film Productions, 1935, B&W, 95 mins.