Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Phantom Light, The (1935)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Phantom Light, The (1935)
DirectorMichael Powell
Production CompanyGainsborough Pictures
From a play byEvadne Price
 Joan Roy Byford
ScenarioRalph Smart
PhotographyRoy Kellino

Cast: Gordon Harker (Sam Higgins); Binnie Hale (Alice Bright); Donald Calthrop (David Owen); Herbert Lomas (Claff Owen); Ian Hunter (Jim Pierce)

Show full cast and credits

A series of mysterious deaths in a Welsh lighthouse lead locals to believe it is haunted. But the new keeper is sceptical.

Show full synopsis

Michael Powell's last film in his contract for Gaumont-British/Gainsborough was a fascinating taste of things to come from the young director. The Phantom Light (1935) was a comic thriller adapted from the stage play The Haunted Light by Evadne Price and Joan Roy Byford.

It seemed the perfect project to Powell, who later admitted, "I am a sucker for lighthouses. The lonelier and inaccessible, the better. And I love comedy-thrillers. I said 'yes' to this one right away, and never regretted it. I enjoyed every minute. The less said about the plot the better."

It's true that the film was interesting less for its slim plot - which, though entertaining enough, could almost pass for an episode of Scooby Doo - than for its effective use of location and atmosphere. Particularly impressive are the night sequences of the lighthouse and bay, and an evocative opening sequence which suggested that Powell had been paying attention to the Universal horror films of the period (e.g. Dracula, US, 1931; Frankenstein, US, 1933). The effective editing - notably in the sequence in which a ship narrowly escapes disaster on the rocks - also hints at greatness to come, but the film is far from a masterpiece.

Gordon Harker, a favourite of British audiences in the '20s and '30s thanks to his versatile comic skills, is good value as the no-nonsense lighthouse keeper, and Ian Hunter is suitably heroic, if a bit stiff, as a naval officer (a role that Powell had hoped to offer to the inexperienced Roger Livesey, but was overruled by studio head Michael Balcon), while there is a likeable performance from Donald Calthrop as a dour coastguard official. All three actors had been Hitchcock regulars.

Mark Duguid

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. To the lighthouse (3:25)
2. The light (5:04)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
'I Know Where I'm Going!' (1945)
Calthrop, Donald (1888-1940)
Harker, Gordon (1885-1967)
Powell, Michael (1905-1990)
Early Michael Powell
Powell and Landscape