Canterville Ghost, The (1944)

Canterville Ghost, The (1944)

“I have roamed these halls for three centuries, and I am so tired — if only I could rest.”

A cowardly ghost (Charles Laughton) doomed to haunt his family’s castle until a descendant commits a brave act in his name hopes that a long-lost American kinsman (Robert Young) — with the help of the castle’s pint-sized owner, Lady Jessica (Margaret O’Brien) — will free him from his sentence.


  • Charles Laughton Films
  • Cowardice
  • Fantasy
  • Ghosts
  • Jules Dassin Films
  • Margaret O’Brien Films
  • Peter Lawford Films
  • Robert Young Films
  • World War II

Loosely adapted from an Oscar Wilde short story, The Canterville Ghost was updated to incorporate the arrival of American G.I.s in England during the height of WWII, emphasizing the importance not only of overcoming cowardice, but of Brits and Americans working together towards a common cause. It remains successful primarily as a light-hearted vehicle for the inimitable Charles Laughton, who is perfectly cast as the portly, forlorn ghost with outsized whiskers and striped bloomers. Equally enjoyable is his precocious co-star, Margaret O’Brien, who showcases her estimable acting chops at the ripe age of 6 (a year before she starred in her most famous film, Meet Me in St. Louis). Together, these two performers make this rather predictable and dated adventure worth sitting through.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Charles Laughton as Sir Simon de Canterville
  • Margaret O’Brien as young Lady Jessica
  • The American G.I.s breaking into “woogie boogie” (as Sir Simon charmingly refers to it) during a town dance

Must See?
No, but it’s an enjoyably innocuous flick and worth checking out once.


One thought on “Canterville Ghost, The (1944)

  1. A must – for some reasons stated: the performances by Laughton (marvelous) and O’Brien (MGM’s answer to Shirley Temple, more effective here than in ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’), as well as Robert Young (esp. near the end); the enjoyment value – but also for director Jules Dassin’s crisp storytelling, and the fact that, even though the film takes liberties with Oscar Wilde’s story, enough of him comes sailing through.

    A great film for kids – one that doesn’t condescend. (I particularly like the scene in which O’Brien is describing to Young the murders/deaths supposedly brought on by the ghost.) The overall theme of the film (“You just pretend that you’re not afraid and you won’t be. That’s all there is to it.”) is a great one for kids to ponder.

    Laughton’s antics early on – his failures at scaring people – seem to have clearly influenced ‘Beetlejuice’.

    And he gets some terrific things to say, not only poignant –

    “Must you invade even my tomb? Will there be no place I can call my sanctuary?”

    but funny –

    “Sir! My record speaks for itself: an unbroken reign of terror for 300 years.”

    My favorite exchange:

    Young: If you’re supposed to hang around until a Canterville does a brave deed for you…how come you’re still here after 300 years?
    Laughton: (sheepish) Has it really been that long?

    But my fave scene (as noted) has got to be when a somewhat dull party turns swingtime – at one point with two men dancing, uh…quite well together.

    Film has a terrific and satisfying conclusion. It chokes me up.

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