The Ghost Ship (1943)


Rating 2¾

Directed by Mark Robson

Written by Donald Henderson Clarke, from a story by Leo Mittler

Starring Richard Dix (Captain Will Stone), Russell Wade (Tom Merriam), Edith Barrett (Ellen Robert), Ben Bard (First Officer Bowns), Edmund Glover (Jacob ‘Sparks’ Winlow), Boyd Davis (Charles Roberts), Robert Bice (Raphael), Tom Burton (William Benson), Harry Clay (Tom McCall), Sr Lancelot (Billy Radd), Lawrence Tierney (Louie Parker), Skelton Knaggs (Finn) and Alec Craig (Blind Beggar)

Tom Merriam goes on board the merchant ship Altair as its new third officer on a voyage to the Caribbean. At first he is impressed by the veteran Captain Stone, but slowly he comes to realise that Stone is insane and will stop at nothing to stamp his authority on his crew.


Val Lewton is celebrated for a sequence of atmospheric low-budget films he produced for RKO Radio Pictures between 1942 and 1946. His most famous films are undoubtedly ‘Cat People’ and my own favourite ‘I Walked With a Zombie’, both directed by Jacques Tourneur. Each film had a production budget under $150,000 and made inspired use of camera angles, lighting and set designs to create a strange dreamlike sense of foreboding.

‘The Ghost Ship’ is one of the lesser entries in the series and the title is somewhat misleading, although it refers to an unspoken curse on the vessel. Although perhaps best viewed as a curio, it still makes excellent use of the claustrophobic studio-bound sets and has a lyrical quality to it. The ship’s destination is the fictional Caribbean island of San Sebastian, which was also the setting for ‘I Walked With a Zombie’. Both films were released in 1943 and both feature Edith Barrett and the calypso singer Sir Lancelot.

Richard Dix, who plays Captain Stone, had been a popular silent actor who survived into the sound era. He received a best actor Academy Award nomination for his performance in the 1931 western ‘Cimarron’, a film that has subsequently been accused of harbouring racist overtones.

Review posted 2 November 2009


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