Two hundred years ago in the eighteenth century, the Glourie clan of Scotland were in a furious feud with their local rivals the McLaggens which led to them continually trying to one-up each other. These events had come to a head when they were supposed to team up to fight the English on the battlefield yet were more interested in fighting themselves so the ailing head of the Glouries, having been mortally insulted by the McLaggens in his own castle, ordered his son Murdoch (Robert Donat) to ensure they would get his comeuppance before his father passed away. However, Murdoch was more interested in taking his pleasure with the young ladies in the surrounding community, and was not much of a fighter...
So it was that before this prologue is over we have seen poor old Murdoch chased by the enemy and accidentally blown up when he foolishly hid behind a barrel of gunpowder intended for the cannon, but that is not the end of his tale by any means. He is turned into a ghost, doomed to haunt the corridors of the castle until he can make amends and avenge his clan on the McLaggens, a state of affairs you'd be correct in thinking was rather tricky when the hated brood never have cause to visit the old place. So it was we jumped ahead to the present of 1935 to catch up with the mournful, restless spirit, where his ancestor Donald is suffering modern problems in contrast: basically he has run out of money.
Donald was also played by one of the most popular British actors of stage and screen, Robert Donat, who propelled the film into the top of the box office winners of its day, making a fortune for producer Alexander Korda. He was lucky to have Donat in his film, for he was notoriously reticent about appearing before the cameras thanks to the combination of asthmatic poor health and a lack of confidence in his abilities, preferring treading the boards of the theatre. In spite of that, he managed to appear in a few movies, his best known being Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps and his Oscar-winning turn in Goodbye Mr Chips, bringing his adoring fans out in their droves for most of them, as was the case with this light, romantic, fantasy comedy.
The director was a man known for his cinematic flights of fancy, and given Donat had a wit and playfulness about his characters you imagine they were ideally matched. Korda had brought René Clair over from his big French successes with both eyes on the potential for profits, which in effect meant he didn't completely trust the filmmaker. Clair was so exasperated with his producer's interference that he very nearly had his name taken off the final work, feeling not much of his intentions survived, but ultimately was glad he did not when it was a substantial money maker, raising his profile significantly worldwide. In truth, it was not wholly apart from the director's canon, it still held that flighty, amused and often fantastical nature that you could identify in his other, more personal productions. Indeed, The Ghost Goes West remains popular with vintage film aficionados to this day thanks to its inconsequentially charming qualities, just the thing for eighty minutes of escapism into another world with incredible events as a matter of course.
And naturally (or indeed supernaturally) the right people were united in romance after a series of complications. The love story in question saw Donald fall for visiting American Peggy Martin (demure and sparkling Jean Parker, not to be confused with Jean Arthur who she resembled), when her father Joe (the foghorn-voiced Eugene Pallette) offers to not only buy the Glourie castle, but transport it, and its ghost, across the Atlantic brick by brick to Florida. With a hint of Nigel Kneale's later The Stone Tape in its treatment of phantoms, though far more benevolent, the differences between Scotland and the United States were played up for giggles, as Murdoch sees the New World as a mixture of tickertape parades and gangster shootouts, and is not happy. It ended with a publicity stunt séance that saw Elsa Lanchester in attendance, the same year she was the Bride of Frankenstein, pure fluff from beginning to end and not recommended to those who liked less flimsy fare, but a minor delight for those wishing to be carried away. Music by Mischa Spoliansky.
[Network's DVD from its British Film line has a restored print, though it's still a little worse for wear in places, and an extensive gallery as an extra.]
Imaginative French writer and director, a former actor, whose whimsy could be tempered with sharp wit. He gained attention in the 1920s with the classic science fiction short Paris Qui Dort, but come the sound era his musicals Le Million and A Nous La Liberté won him more and more fans. He moved to Britain for comic fantasy The Ghost Goes West, and to Hollywood for I Married A Witch, It Happened Tomorrow and classic Agatha Christie adaptation And Then There Were None. When the Second World War ended, he returned to France to make films including Les Belles de Nuit.