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The Ghost Goes West (1935)

Displaying a charm that one cannot easily dismiss, this proved to be a winning romantic comedy of ghostly proportions from producer Alexander Korda that features future Oscar winner Robert Donat playing dual roles. That of an 18th century spirit cursed to haunt his birthplace and the young ancestor who is attempting to sell the run down ancestral castle to business tycoon Eugene Pallette in the present day of 1935.

Our tale of ghouls and ghosts begins in the past when our 18th Century Donat would rather tease and play kissing games with lovely maidens than join his countrymen in the battle against the English. (Where’s the wrong in that I ask you?)

theghostgoeswest

Before getting to the English, Donat will have to defend the honor of his clan when his Father is insulted by other Scotsmen branding his family a pack of cowards. When Donat is summoned by his aging father to defend the family name, he marches onto the battlefield to first defend the family’s honor by facing off against the opposing clans before crossing the field to face off against the English. He doesn’t make it that far but dies a coward while hiding behind a keg of powder.

He’s doomed himself to the castle walls until the day comes when he can bring honor back to the family name by having a member of an opposing clan admit that the Donat family clan were but the bravest men in all of Scotland and it would take 50 members of an opposing clan to make for one of Donat’s kin.

ghost-west

Off to the 20th century we go where we find our modern Donat wining,dining and serenading the Pallette family while quickly falling for his lovely daughter, Jean Parker. Honestly, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think Miss Parker was Jean Arthur. She not only physically reminds me of Jean but her performance and care free attitude the character displays just sings of Jean Arthur. She has that zaniness about her that is impossible not to like.

As midnight nears, Donat shuffles his guests out the door so as not to meet the castle ghost and ruin his sale. Little does he realize that our ghostly Donat has already begun flirting with Parker and she of course thinks it’s our modern Donat playing romantic games and flirting with her in 18th Century costume. She’s bound to fall in love with one and by default, the other. It is of course our modern Donat who has fallen in love with Parker as the film moves along and only wishes he was as forthcoming as his skirt chasing ancestor.

donat-and-pallette

Once Pallette seals the deal on the castle purchase, he discloses the fact that he’s having it torn down, stone by stone and moved across the ocean to Florida where it will be rebuilt exactly as it has stood for centuries. This prompts our other worldly Donat to state emphatically to his father in the clouds above, “I don’t want to become a colonist.” A great line!

I did think the film from director Rene Clair loses it’s way a bit as the story approaches the one hour mark by turning the ghost into a story nation wide after he is spotted aboard the ship transporting his home to America and the subsequent advertising campaign built up around him for Pallette’s business ventures. The topic even makes it to the floor of the White House. On the night of the castle’s grand opening all the loose ends are sure to be tied up both romantically and perhaps even having the curse lifted.

elsa-and-eugene

The version of the film that I have in my collection runs at 83 minutes and somehow I suspect I’m missing some scenes. I say this mostly because of the appearance of Elsa Lanchester at the film’s final chapter and her being billed fourth in the cast list. She really has very little to say or do in her role as what I believe is a medium. According to the IMDB, the film clocks in at 95 minutes so I’ll assume I did see a shortened version from a VHS release I picked up a while back.

ghost-goes-west2

In the end, this hasn’t harmed my opinion of the film. I found it a movie bountiful with charm and Donat memorable in a dual role, sparking chemistry with his leading lady Miss Parker. Worth a look should you be able to locate a copy. If you have seen the supposed longer version, what did I miss?

15 Comments »

  1. I’ve never seen this, Mike, though I’ve read about it before. I’m also a fan of Donat’s work and I think Clair had a lovely light touch so I should make an effort to actually see the movie.

  2. This is a favorite movie of mine (not as good as Clair’s I Married a Witch, but getting there) — in fact, I’ve really enjoyed all the Clair movies I’ve seen, including the French ones.

    However, can I pull you up short on something. The Scots weren’t fighting the British; they were fighting the English. In the same way that Canadians are North Americans, so it’d be silly to talk about them fighting the North Americans, the Scots are British. They may regret it a lot of the time, particularly recently, but . . .

    The British/English confusion seems widespread on this side of the pond. I have actually a couple of times had this conversation:

    STRANGER: You’re English, aren’t you?
    ME: No, Scottish. “British” is okay.
    STRANGER: That’s what I said: English.

      • The VHS copy I watched when writing about the movie for The Encyclopedia of Fantasy was 85 mins, and that was probably the consensus of print sources at the time. I see IMDB lists it at 95 mins, but it wouldn’t be the first time IMDB got a running time wrong. On the other hand, it’s feasible my “85” is a typo for “95,” and of course I can’t any longer play the VHS to check!

        I thought I had a DVD version — and indeed my catalogue says I do — but I seem to have mislaid the [REDACTED] thing.

          • R.C. Dale’s two-vol The Films of Rene Clair (1986) lists the movie at 98 mins — aargh! Dale’s book contains a very detailed synopsis, so what I should really do is watch the movie with that synopsis in hand, checking to see what might be missing from whatever cut I’ve located. Alas, I have other things on my plate right now . . .

          • The plot over missing footage thickens…. if there is any. I dug a bit deeper into this and found this quote in the Motion Picture Guide. “The film as released in England ran 90 minutes with 5 chopped out of it by Korda for American release.”

          • I’m inclined to agree with you: 85 minutes seems to be the genuine r/t. The TCM site, which ordinarily gives variant running times where no one else lists them, sticks to 85 minutes as well. I wonder if the 90-minute version was ever released, even in the UK? I know Korda fiddled with the movie after Clair had considered it done, so I’m wondering if the 90-minute version was a “director’s cut” with only the 85-minute version ever hitting the screen?

            Matters aren’t helped by the fact that cinema reference sources are notoriously blase about running times, while contemporary sources often got the r/t figure from a press release prepared before the movie’s final edit.

  3. Haven’t seen this one, or any Robert Donat film beyond ‘The 39 Steps’…something I should probably rectify. And yes, based on that last photo above, Jean Parker DOES look just like Jean Arthur! And I’m guessing those missing 12 minutes included a shower scene, some foul language, and a gory torture chamber sequence. 😉

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