The Ghost Ship (1943)

Director: Mark Robson

Interesting that this is the only one of the Lewton Nine not on that Top 500 Horror list. I wonder if the decades of enforced obscurity in which it languished had anything to do with that, cos it seems a bit strange that this particular one should be the only one not there. I don’t imagine it was the first film to be a box office success and accordingly attract someone trying to claim it ripped off their idea (hardly the last either, of course; James Cameron only just the other day won a plagiarism claim against Avatar), but it certainly was one of those instances where the studio lost… as such, Ghost Ship was pulled from the theatres where it had been doing quite well and spent the next 50 years going almost entirely unseen. I don’t think it was exactly revealed as a lost masterpiece upon its belated revival; a somewhat gothic tale of madness and power being abused on a cargo ship at sea that’s not actually bad by any means, but, not unlike The Leopard Man, it feels a bit “B” in a way that Seventh Victim managed not to do… Young Tom Merriam sets sail on his first voyage as 3rd officer on a ship where there’s been one odd death before he even boards and another just before he sails (I don’t think these are ever actually explained at any point); gradually he comes to realise the captain he looks up to is, well, losing his shit. Reporting him for murder to the company once on land again does no good, and, unwillingly returned to the ship, he finds himself ostracised by the crew—he really is the titular ghost—and in line to be the captain’s next victim. As I said, not bad at all, but lacking something to quite make it hit… the voiceover internal monologue of the mute Finn is kind of overdone, and the scene where the captain meets an old flame on land and talks about his understandable fear of being overtaken by madness, having seen a former captain of his own go the same way, is obviously meant to humanise him somewhat, yet somehow it didn’t work for me. It’s OK, has a few quite effective things going on, but not much more than that…

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