Old Mother Riley’s Ghosts

08/17/2021 10:10

Film: Old Mother Riley’s Ghosts

Year: 1941

Director: John Baxter

Writer: Geoffrey Orme and Con West

Starring: Arthur Lucan, Kitty McShane and John Stuart



This is another movie from 1941 that I discovered from Letterboxd. Coming into this, I did a bit of research to see that this was a comedy series from the United Kingdom, much like Abbott and Costello or the Three Stooges. For movies like this, they would veer into other sub-genres to try to attract more fans. This was one that I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to find but found a fairly cheap DVD for it. The synopsis is a charwoman comes upon a plot to steal the invention of a man who lives in a haunted house.

Where I should start is explaining what a charwoman is, since I had no idea. It is someone who comes into a house a few days a week to clean. In this case, Mrs. Riley (Arthur Lucan) does this for an office that is run by Mr. Cartwright (Peter Gawthrone). We see that he is on the outs with his son of John (John Stuart). He has high hopes for him, but John doesn’t want to work for his father. Since he won’t, he is going to be cut off from the estate. Even though it make life hard, John agrees and leaves.

Mrs. Riley and her daughter of Kitty (Kitty McShane) both work in the same office. Her daughter is a waitress of sorts. The two of them get into it over a painting of Mrs. Riley’s late husband and Kitty’s father that is hanging in the dining room. Mrs. Riley soon realizes she is late for work. It should be pointed out that she claims to never be late, but I’m not so sure.

At the office, Mr. Cartwright is quite upset that the conference room hasn’t been cleaned. Before this, we got an interesting interacting between Warrender (Henry B. Longhurst) and an inventor. It appears they’re trying to create a new engine, but he is struggling. Warrender is looking to cut out Mr. Cartwright and take more of the profits for himself. The inventor is leery about lying though. Mrs. Riley ends up causing a commotion trying to make up for not doing her job and gets fired.

Trying to figure what she will do causes her to meet John. She learns a bit of his plight and offers him a place to stay. This makes for an interesting dinner there with Jem (Dennis Wyndham), a man also saying there. Kitty doesn’t like John spending time with her mother. She goes out to dinner with Warrender, but when she rebuffs something he says it gets her fired as well. Jem also gets into it with his foreman. This leaves everyone in the house out of work. John and Jem hit it off and go about coming up with a new engine.

They see an opportunity when a Butterick (A. Bromly Davenport) informs Mrs. Riley she has inherited a castle in Scotland. Warrender wants the plans the two men are coming up. The Rileys decide they’re going to go to this castle. Warrender and his crew try to find a scare them off and when they doesn’t work, they decide to get a bit rough.

That is where I want to leave my recap and start with giving a bit more back-story to this. What I found is that Old Mother Riley was a comedy act that was done by Lucan and his wife McShane. What adds to this is that it is one of the earliest drag shows as well since Lucan is a man playing Mrs. Riley. It is interesting since we get things like Tyler Perry being Madea or actors like Eddie Murphy or Martin Lawrence playing characters like this. I know there are countless others I’m forgetting as well. It does seem progressive especially for the 1930s/1940s.

Since I watched this for the horror elements, I’ll go that next. It is light in them if I’m going to be honest. We don’t get them until they go to the castle which like the last 20 minutes of the movie. Even when we get them, there are just some cool ghostly effects and that is about it. There is a skeleton in a bed and a walking suit of armor where the head raises off the body in addition as well. What we get there looks good, but it does feel forced into the movie to give it that genre without fully embracing it.

What this movie is more is a comedy. I’ll be honest; I give respect to what this series did and when it was doing it. The comedy didn’t work for me though. It feels like some of the other comedy groups from the era, but didn’t land with me. I’m not saying this isn’t funny though. I’m sure there are some people out there that enjoy this more than me. I am just not the audience personally.

From here I will take this to the acting. I do want to give credit to Lucan as Mrs. Riley. He does a solid job at playing this old woman, from the look to how he sounds. That was impressive. McShane I wasn’t as impressed with. She is reserved and doesn’t stand out. Stuart was solid and I like the idea of him not wanting charity from his family or anyone else. It is impressive more that he is from money. How hard he is willing to work breaks the mold. I will say part of that could also be the era. The rest of the cast was fine, but no one really stands out to me. I guess I should give credit to the villain as it is something we are still seeing today with a greedy capitalist.

Then the last things to go into would be the cinematography and the soundtrack. For the former, it is fine. They don’t do anything crazy with it and it is standard for the era. I did like the castle as get a bit of the old dark house sub-genre there. The copy I saw wasn’t in great shape, so the sound quality was poor. That didn’t help for me to pick up on the score unfortunately.

So then in conclusion, I think there is some historical importance to this movie with Old Mother Riley and the act they’re using from it. This really is a comedy though that has some forced in horror elements to put it in that sub-genre. I give credit to Lucan, but the rest of the cast aside from Stuart didn’t really stand out. The comedy didn’t work for me and the sound quality for my copy wasn’t good. With the issues I had, this movie is below average for me. I also can’t recommend it unless you love the series and are a completionist


My Rating: 4.5 out of 10