Ghost Films: The Ghost Goes West

13 September, 2022 by katelaity

Robert Donat in the title role demonstrating why Murdoch Glourie did not survive the Jacobite Uprising, being more concerned with kissing lassies than preparing for battle.

My students are enjoying René Clair’s I Married a Witch this week, so I was looking around for other Clair bits and bobs to share with them and found this much overlooked film. How can I resist a Jacobite ghost and a Scots castle? Okay, sure: Mancunian Robert Donat plays Murdoch and his descendent Donald but English actors take every opportunity to pretend they’re Scots, it seems. And Donat has the right legs for a kilt. It’s hilarious how persistent the gushing American love for all things perceived as romantic Scotland: kilts, bagpipes, castles, whisky.

Murdoch scandalises his father with his obsession with kissing and is only spurred into action by their mutual hatred of the MacClaggans (yes, every cliché about Scotland appears). His father can at last die in peace–at least until his son meets his unexpected (well, by him!) demise. He curses his son to walk limbo until his elaborate and specific revenge is enacted upon a MacClaggan.

Jump forward to modernity (1935) and rich American heiress Peggy Martin (Jean Parker) falls in love with the cute castle and begins to be interested in the debt-ridden Donald. His debtors and clever house keeper, Mrs MacNiff (Elliott Mason) put on a good show and manage to hide the ghost from the traumatised mother (Everley Gregg) and show them a good enough time that they’re willing to buy the castle. Peggy accidentally meets the ghost and thinks it’s Donald being funny (yes, of course they’re dead ringers for one another). He’s saved from his debts but when they break the news that they’re moving the castle to Florida, he almost backs out from the travesty.

Elsa Lanchester in mystical garb: I think she’s supposed to be a psychic but her character is so truncated it’s hard to tell.

Sweet, fun — great characters actors including Eugene Pallette as the grocery magnate dad, and Elsa Lanchester in a too small role but arresting nonetheless (of course) and I want her wardrobe! The Americanisation of the castle and its heritage is the definition of cringe: it’s interesting that the only people of colour show up as the crew reassembling the castle and the black jazz band who play the ‘traditional’ Scots music including bagpipes, but with a swing.

You will learn how to spell Killiekrankie!

Murdoch agreeing to fight for the clan’s honour belatedly.
Newspaper with headline 'Scotch ghost highhats America' and subhead 'Imported kilted phantom fails to show after much heralded entry into the US'
I forgot to add my fave screen cap!

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