Mr Porter (Will Hay) works for the British Railways as a lowly wheeltapper, even though that's not his job. His wealthy sister is horrified to discover a member of her family in such reduced circumstances, but Porter is such an incompetent he can't be trusted with anything as major as station master, which his sister would like him to do. Nevertheless, while sorting through the files, an opening for a station master is found, and one which should suit Porter to a tee: in the sleepy town of Buggleskelly on the border between Southern and Northern Ireland. He can't cause any trouble there, surely? However, on his way there, Porter is told by the locals there's something sinister about the station at night - could it be haunted?
Written by J.O.C. Orton, Val Guest and Marriott Edgar, from a story by Frank Launder, Oh Mr Porter! is generally regarded as the popular British comedian Hay's best film, and if it's not his best, it's certainly one of his most enjoyable efforts. Playing his usual role of the man put in a position of authority despite not having the faintest idea of what he is doing, he is joined by the two comic actors who would make up a kind of team for a few years, at least until Hay decided he wanted to branch out on his own without them. Those two are Moore Marriott, the elderly, babbling and ever-so-slightly crazed sidekick, and Graham Moffatt, the tubby, indolent boy with the harsh voice.
The trio perfectly complement each other, with Marriott playing Harbottle and Moffat as Arthur, both of whom work at the barely operable station and chart the comings and goings of the new arrivals for station master by the clocks they bring as gifts. One of Porter's predecessors has gone mad, another has disappeared never to be seen again, and all this is blamed on the curse the the deceased miller, One-Eyed Joe, reputedly placed on the nearby tunnel - anyone who goes in will not come back out. Not alive, at any rate. Porter is not one to believe such superstition, and is dismayed to learn from his new staff that trains hardly ever stop at Buggleskelly, so he sets about sprucing up the station to make it more desirable to stop there, with predictably unhelpful results.
After halting the express train and getting a row from the guard for his trouble, Porter doesn't let that hold him back and so begins a series of highly amusing sketches as he has to combat a farmer who has lost his pigs (Porter has been unwittingly eating one for breakfast), or decorating the surroundings - spelling out "Buggleskkely" (sic) in stones by the trackside. When Porter points out to Harbottle that Buggleskelly has two "L"s, Harbottle replies that it therefore contains thirteen letters and is unlucky. Then there's the old engine lying unused nearby, Porter asks if its name is Rocket, but it's Gladstone, and he sees it as just the thing to win the station more popularity with travellers.
Chiefly, Porter wants an excursion, and arranges one that nobody wants to go on. However, trying to drum up business in the pub, he starts a brawl that he escapes from through a side door and into a back room. There he meets a mysterious man in an eye patch, which should have rung alarm bells if he'd been paying attention, and the man takes all the tickets, insisting the train set off at six in the morning. When the train subsequently vanishes, Porter loses his job, and everyone in the village thinks there are supernatural forces at work. Are there? You'll have to watch and see, but being as this resembles the classic play The Ghost Train you should be able to guess. The three central actors' music hall-style banter is given a real jolt by Marcel Varnel's lightning-fast direction, and the final chase sequence is genuinely thrilling. There aren't many British films from the thirties that stand up to repeated viewing, but Oh Mr Porter! stands proud as one of them.