Review of “The Ghoul” (1933)

trailer from YouTube

This week’s pizza and bad movie selection is delayed by a week because I once again came down with pneumonia, something I have a penchant for. At first glance, this appears to be an old-fashioned horror flick, but the truth is a little more complicated.

Plot:

A man wearing a fez with stained skin and exaggeratedly widened eyes (D.A. Clarke-Smith) follows a man in a suit to the latter’s apartment. The landlady at first tries to send him away, treating him like a door-to-door salesman, until he asks for Mr. Dragore (Harold Huth).

When he finds Dragore, the man in the fez holds a knife to his neck and demands the jewel known as the “Eternal Light.” He wants to return the gem to the tomb whence it was stolen. Dragore insists he hasn’t got but recently sold it to Professor Morlant (Boris Karloff), who believes it has the power of resurrection. The old man, an expert in Egyptology, is dying. All they have to do is wait.

The viewer next sees Professor Morlant on his deathbed. He appears to have suffered some sort of disfigurement. A parson comes to the door and introduces himself as Nigel Hartley (Ralph Richardson), new in the neighborhood. Morlant’s servant, Laing (Ernest Thesiger), tells him Professor Morlant is a pagan and tells the parson he’s of no use.

The doctor (an uncredited George Relph) comes out of the sick room. He first tells Laing Morlant is asking for him and then seeks Morlant’s solicitor, Broughton (Cedric Hardwicke), to let him know Morlant hasn’t much time left. Broughton is busy going through his client’s books.

Upstairs, Morlant tells Laing not to trust Broughton and goes over his funeral preparations, which include wrapping the Eternal Light to his hand. Laing doesn’t care for the business but agrees. He says, “A man will no find peace that robs his heirs.” Morlant swears that if he is robbed of the jewel, he will rise from the dead and kill those who robbed him.

Answering Laing’s cries, the doctor runs upstairs. He listens for Morlant’s heartbeat through his stethoscope and declares, “It’s all over.”

The viewer next sees the Eternal Light when the clubfooted Laing pulls it from a hollow in the heel of his shoe.

Thoughts:

This sounds a lot like The Mummy, which Boris Karloff made in 1932, but there are differences. First, farcical elements make one wonder if the movie is satire or serious. In truth, this is neither fish nor fowl.

However, it is a lot of fun. A mad dash ensues for the jewel. Kaney (Kathleen Harrison), a friend of Morlant’s niece, is a classic ditz swooning over the exotic bad guy, Dragore. An old feud between branches of the family is represented by a niece Betty Harlon (Dorothy Hyson) and brash nephew Ralph Morlant (Anthony Bushell), who can’t believe rich old Uncle Morlant died nearly penniless and wants the jewel to make up for it.

In the meantime, everyone is stalked by Professor Morlant, who feels ill-used. He says little but menaces a lot, scaring the bejesus out of people who saw him carried out on a briar and entombed by torchlight.

The photography of the entire movie is dark as if they were trying to save money on lighting. It is a little hard to see. I suggest watching this at night with the lights off. The sound is also less than pristine, but considering the age of the movie, it is not bad.

The score uses a lot of Wagner, which is to say, a heaping helping of overblown music. The music can sharpen the contrast between scenes. Ferinstance, Morlant is carried to his almost-eternal rest to a bit of Wagner’s “Death and Funeral March” for the hero Siegfried. It is a stately scene, and the music is heavy and mournful. Once the coffin is laid in the tomb, the pallbearers walk out, grumbling as if they were complaining about a crummy boss at quitting time. One is heard distinctly saying the whole business is “disgusting.” One would think even Siegfried might have to chuckle at that.

A Snidely Whiplash ending doesn’t lend credibility to the movie, but by that time, I don’t think most viewers will care.

The movie was long considered lost. In the early 60s, an incomplete copy surfaced with poor sound quality and Czech subtitles. It was deemed nearly unwatchable. In the 80s, a disused film vault at Shepperton Studios in Great Briton was uncovered, and a near-perfect copy was found. From this copy was drawn the film that is now available.

This was made during Karloff’s brief contract dispute with Universal and is regarded as the first British horror film of the sound era. Well, it’s horror-ish.

The movie can be watched here.



Title: The Ghoul (1933)

Directed by
T. Hayes Hunter

Writing Credits
Frank King…(by) (as Dr. Frank King) &
Leonard Hines…(by)
Roland Pertwee…(screen version by) &
John Hastings Turner…(screen version by)
Rupert Downing…(adaptation)

Cast (in credits order)
Boris Karloff…Prof. Henry Morlant
Cedric Hardwicke…Broughton
Ernest Thesiger…Laing
Dorothy Hyson…Betty Harlon
Anthony Bushell…Ralph Morlant

Released: 1933
Length: 1 hour, 17 minutes

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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