The Ghost Train

07/29/2021 06:30

Film: The Ghost Train

Year: 1941

Director: Walter Forde

Writer: J.O.C. Orton, Val Guest and Marriott Edgar

Starring: Arthur Askey, Richard Murdoch and Kathleen Harrison



This is another of those that I discovered while working through the list of movies from 1941 on Letterboxd. This is one that looks to have gone into public domain so I got the chance to watch it on YouTube. I did see that this movie was listed first as a comedy, which from the other movies I’ve watched seemed to be common for the era. To get into this one, the synopsis is high jinks and chills ensue when a group of people become stranded at an isolated station and a legendary phantom train approaches.

We start this movie off on a train. The movie introduces us to most of the key people. The first is a couple of Edna (Betty Jardine) and Herbert (Stuart Latham) who are on their way to be married. We then get to meet Tommy Gander (Arthur Askey). He's a comedian and performer who is going to his next gig. There is also Teddy Deakin (Richard Murdoch). The two of them are enamored when they see Jackie Winthrop (Carole Lynne). They vie for her attention, but run into a problem in the form of R.G. Winthrop (Peter Murray-Hill). As it progresses, we learn that he is her cousin, but he’s protective over her. Also on this train are a drunken doctor of Sterling (Morland Graham) and a proper older woman of Miss Bourne (Kathleen Harrison).

An issue is raised when Tommy loses his hat and pulls the emergency brake on the train to get it. His personality causes issues as he doesn't see a problem here. The ticker takers on the train want to press charges. There is a bigger problem than this though; when they arrive at the station they learn that they missed the connecting train due to the unscheduled stop. It turns out there isn't another one until the following morning.

Tommy isn't everyone's favorite person due to them being late. The station master states they cannot stay there, but the closest place is 4 miles away. It doesn't help that it starts to storm. Despite what the master stated, this group is going to hold up there for the night. He does warn them though about something that happened here some years ago. Ted Holmes (Wallace Bosco), who was a station master past, had a heart attack trying to change the tracks. The bridge was out and the train went over it, killing all on board. Some nights, a train comes by this station. There is no record of it leaving from the station previous or arriving in the next. It is a ghost train. This gets under the skin of Miss Bourne.

As the night goes on, there are  zany antics by Tommy and strange things happen around the station. There are also some others that oddly show up at this station as it goes as well. Is the ghost train real? Or is there more of a logical explanation for what people in the area has seen?

That is where I'll leave the recap as this doesn't have the deepest story. It does have a concept that most of us grow up with, a local legend. Where I grew up we had a train trestle that is supposed to be haunted. I feel that many of us have a similar story for something near us. A ghost train is an interesting one. My issue here is that this idea really only takes up about 15 minutes or so of our runtime. A lot of this movie is Askey's comedy as Tommy, with the characters interacting as they try to figure out how they will get to whatever they have to before it is too late.

What is interesting about Askey is, I feel like I recognize him, but I'm not sure how. I think this is the first movie or show that I've seen him in as far as I know. Much like other movies from this year, the comedy doesn't always work for me. I do think that he's funny. Some of the other characters add to the comedy, but it is mostly Tommy. It seemed like a vehicle for him while also adding in a dash of horror and tension from their predicament. I think this movie could still function without him. He is the reason they get stranded and helps with discovering the truth, but it could be rewritten without this character as well. I don't want you to think I hate this, as that isn't the case. It just isn't my style. What I find interesting, this feels like the basis of what Scooby Doo cartoons would be in the eras to follow.

Going along with the explanation, it is something that I like. I'm not going to spoil this, even though it is 80 years old, but there is a train. We see it going by to an extent. What we do are the lights and the sound of it zooming past. What ends up being the reveal fits for the era, but does feel like it is shoehorned in without much of a reason. I did like how some people are involved and I'll admit I didn't see it coming.

Moving away from the story, I want to take this to the acting. Even though the comedy doesn't work for me, I do like Askey as our lead. He is energetic and some of his wordplay did make me laugh. I like seeing him compete with Murdoch for Jackie. The character of Teddy seems like a jerk, but the reveal there worked despite my issues when it happened. Harrison, Murray-Hill, Lynne, Graham, Jardine and Latham are all solid. What I like is that many of them we don't hear their name or I just missed it, but I knew exactly who each are. The rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed.

Then the last things to go over would be the cinematography, effects and soundtrack. For the former, I think it is fine. They don't do anything fancy with it, but I'm not going to hold it against the movie. This isn't a movie that does much with effects and doesn't need it. I like that certain things happen that seem supernatural, but also could have a logical explanation. When the train that they think to be a ghost goes by is good. That takes me to the sound design. The music fit, but didn't stand out. I did like the musical number for Tommy that R.G. cuts short. The copy I watched was a bit hard to hear, which did affect my viewing.

So then in conclusion here, this is a decent little comedy film with some horror elements. If this came out today, I don't think we get that classification. I thought that the acting amongst our core characters was good. The concept of a haunted train and how they get stranded is solid enough for me, especially with a local legend I grew up with. The movie would work better for me without the comedy, but that's just me. The explanation also feels a bit shoehorned in for the era. The other parts are fine as well. I would say this is over average. It is just missing elements for me to go higher.


My Rating: 6 out of 10