THE GHOST TRAIN (1941) Review

Directed by Walter Forde
Written by J.O.C. Orton with dialogue by Marriott Edgar & Val Guest from a play by Arnold Ridley
Starring Arthur Askey, Richard Murdoch, Kathleen Harrison, Peter Murray-Hill, Carole Lynne

It’s nice to take a trip back to yesteryear every now and then and check out the classics. With this train themed column, I blew the dust off of this golden oldie, THE GHOST TRAIN, a British film adapted from a play written by Arnold Ridley. It definitely feels like a stage adaptation in that most of the film takes place in a single room; a train station. I love blood and guts and highly CGI-ed monsters as much as the next guy, but every now and then, it’s good to see why the classics are called classics and THE GHOST TRAIN is an effective little ghost story.

As many know, the quality of any ghost story is all in the delivery. Here, a handful of random characters are dropped off at a train station later than scheduled. The passengers find out that there won’t be another train until morning and in spite of the station master’s warnings, they have to hunker down and sleep in the abandoned station all night. So the stage is set here for a pretty terrifying, “One Dark Night…” story. But this is a story more of the power of superstition than actual ghosts. It does have a couple of really chilling scenes though. Apparently the station is haunted and in an eerie scene, one of the locals describes a train wreck and how the train still passes by causing folks to go insane and some to drop dead from fright.

Sounds pretty terrifying, huh? Well, don’t get too excited. Apart from a few great gloomy scenes, this film is mainly a farce in that vaudevillian actor Arthur Askey chews the scenery like a zombie who…uhm…eats scenery…instead of brains…never mind, bad comparison. What I’m trying to say is that every time things get somewhat scary, Askey shows up and pisses in the punch bowl. Askey seems to be a part of a different movie altogether, as if the filmmakers were afraid to scare the audiences too much, so they filled the film with scenes of Askey hamming it up like a modern day Mr. Bean. Some of Askey’s antics are funny, but a little bit of this clown goes a long way. I started to get as annoyed with his wannabe Chaplin routine as the rest of the cast. Askey basically plays the Bugs Bunny character here, but with material so ripe as a train filled with ghosts, I was wishing he’d shut the fuck up and let me be scared already.

Though Askey proved to be annoying, the rest of the film is fun and I really liked the way THE GHOST TRAIN ended. I won’t spoil it here, but it’s a different kind of scare this film was going for, playing on our susceptibility to superstition and legend. If you can stomach all of the goofy bits, there’s a damn spooky film somewhere in THE GHOST TRAIN and it’s worth checking out. Watch the whole movie below if and when you have the time.

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