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Ghost Train, The (1927)


Main image of Ghost Train, The (1927)
35mm, black and white, silent, 6500 feet
DirectorGeza von Bolvary
Production CompaniesGainsborough Pictures, F.P.S., Phoebus-Film
ScreenplayBenno Vigny
 Adolf Lantz
Original playArnold Ridley
PhotographyOtto Kanturek

Cast: Guy Newall (Teddie Deakin); Louis Ralph; John Manners (Charly Murdock); Sinaida Korolenko (Elsie Winthrop); Ernst Verebes (Bobby Winthrop)

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Train passengers become stranded on a platform late at night, and are told by the stationmaster to beware of the phantom 'ghost train' that is said to haunt the station.

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The Ghost Train (d. Geza Von Bolvary, 1927) was made as part of a reciprocal deal between Gainsborough and the German studio UFA, and was the sort of international production that largely disappeared after the introduction of the Cinematograph Films Act (1927) and its imposition of quotas limiting foreign films.

The film was based on a stage play by Arnold Ridley (who would go on to greater fame as Private Godfrey in the BBC's long running sitcom Dad's Army (1968-77)), which had been a huge success when it opened at London's St Martin's Lane theatre in 1925, running for over 600 performances. The film, coming only two years after the play's release, was therefore a major production.

Of particular note is Geza Von Bolvary's outstanding direction, encompassing a variety of techniques from animation to superimposition, and highlighting a more visual approach to storytelling that betrays his foreign background (as well as his apprenticeship in the silent period).

By the 1930s Gainsborough had become part of the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation, and through this connection remade The Ghost Train (d. Walter Forde, 1931) at their Islington studios. Michael Balcon was once again the producer, and the film was scripted by Angus MacPhail, who would go on to write The Halfway House (d. Basil Dearden, 1944) for Balcon at Ealing.

As a sign of how the horror film would progress in this country up until Hammer, these two films are instructive. The original film was more horrific and supernatural, in keeping with other foreign-influenced productions of the period, such as The Ghoul (d. Todd Hayes Hunter, 1933) and Dark Eyes of London (d. Walter Summers, 1939). By contrast, the remake focused more on humour and was more naturalistic, like other predominantly British horror films, including the work of Tod Slaughter.

Paul Moody

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Video Clips
1. Title animation (0:35)
2. The haunted station (7:31)
Dead of Night (1945)
Halfway House, The (1944)
Newall, Guy (1885-1937)
Horror Before Hammer