The Canterville Ghost (1944)
It puts you in the best of spirits!
I think this October is going to be something a little... different. I've spent such a long time on a "scary" movie kick that I find myself free of the shackles of searching for something that will chill me to the bone, and as such find myself drawn to a new premise on this month culminating in everyone's favorite excuse to dress up. To start off this more light-hearted, nostalgia filled October, I figured we'd go back - way back - to a little castle in Britain. Rattle your chains and ready your dance number, it's time to see of this ghost will bring us laughs as he drains our color.
The Canterville Ghost starts with a little bit of a history behind the ghost - as it's not simply a ghost that just happens to be around scaring people. No, for three hundred years this phantasm has been roaming the halls of Canterville castle, spooking it's descendants to insanity, but it all started a long time ago. It happens that during a hunting party, a man stabs what he thinks to be a deer with his spear, only to find it's the arm of a young man who claims to be picking berries. It is quickly found that this isn't quite the case, as he seems to be out with a woman whom the stab-ee was supposed to be betrothed to. Although this were the case, it just so happens she was in fact wed to the stabbed just the day before. The stab-ee isn't too happy of this, challenging the young man to a duel - a duel with which the young man gets his brother to take part in on his behalf due to his wounded arm.
On the day of the duel, a pinky wound causes the stab-ee to sub in his much bigger and more frightening relative into the duelfor him, causing our Canterville man to become quite afraid. So much so, in fact, that he runs off from the field and hides in the family castle. When his cowardice is discovered, he's walled into a chamber and left to die, cursed to roam the halls until a descendant of the family be brave enough to do a brave deed on his behalf. As it would be, the family line is lousy with cowards after that, and 300 years go buy with the ghost continuing his ghostly routines. With the second World War waging hot, a troop of American soldiers are going to be staying at the castle, now belonging to the six-year old young lady of the Canterville line - a young lady who knows well of the ghost and is quite terrified of it.
The ghost tales are told to the soldiers, but of course they aren't ones to spook at mere stories - well, most of them anyways. When that bell chimes midnight and the ghost comes knocking however, they sing a slightly different tune, and after getting the crap scared out of them they concoct a plan to scare the ghost back. It works swimmingly, although one soldier manages to stub his toe and gets left behind the next day for cleaning duty, where he decides to introduce the young lady to the ghost to show her that he's not that scary at all. It's here she learns of the curse of the ghost, and by accident she finds out that maybe this one soldier is in fact a descendant of the Cantervilles himself. If he is, maybe he could even be the one to break the curse!
For all it's spooky or somewhat adult moments - touching on the War, a man being entombed behind a wall alive and cursed to be a ghost for a potential eternity - it keeps an air of humor about it. It's whimsical, in the same fashion that many a movie was - such as Singing in the Rain. The ghost does scary ghost things, but his cowardice and relative job-like approach to it creates this almost jolly figure. Of course, the existence of the ghost in the first place sets up a manner of jokes amongst the army guys, so some of the jokes do actually come elsewhere than just the ghost himself. Heck, there's even a dance number when the soldiers are all at a party in the village.
Costumes look quite play-like as far as the ghost goes - ranging from overly puffed-shoulders and leggings one would expect to see in an old movie about the middle ages up to cloaks and spooky lanterns. The soldiers look their part, and the young miss has outfits one would expect of a tiny duchess - from riding outfits to fancy little dresses. There is nothing particularly outrageous here, although the innards of the castle itself are quite nice looking and decorated with plenty of props. Effects are pretty decent for the time, with plenty of faded, see-through ghost effects going on. The re-attaching of the ghostly severed head, on the other hand, didn't fare quite as well (although when separate it holds up decent enough).
Acting is mostly well done - although one could argue child acting has come a long ways. Granted, this isn't to say that the body language and facial expressions of the youngest don't work well, but there are certainly some times when it feels rather goofy - although in fairness I suppose you could say that of most the cast. Regardless of how serious the character, there usually at least one scene that's played for straight humor. Audio is balanced for the most part, although the scoring can be a bit louder than the voice work at times (usually when no actual talking is being had).
It's overall a pretty feel-good movie. In the same way that Singing in the Rain or White Christmas can have a semi-serious plot and tone at moments, but still crack jokes and smiles and find the time to dance up a storm, The Canterville Ghost manages to keep a light-hearted and enjoyable presentation. It might not exactly be a knee-slapper that has you laughing out loud, but it's hard not to feel at least happy while watching it, despite the edges of time that manage to creep in (such as the wear on the film that managed to make it into the DvD pressings).