Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Canterville Ghost, The

There have been at least four movies based on the novella "The Canterville Ghost" (1887) by Oscar Wilde.

1. US movie (1944). MGM. Pr Arthur L Field. Dir Jules Dassin. Screenplay Edwin Harvey Blum. Starring Charles Laughton (Sir Simon de Canterville), Margaret O'Brien (Lady Jessica de Canterville), Reginald Owen (Lord Canterville), "Rags" Ragland (Big Harry), Robert Young (Cuffy Williams). 95 mins. B/w.

300 years ago Sir Simon was immured by his father for running away from a duel, and cursed (see Curses) to haunt Canterville Castle until such time as a Canterville would, wearing Sir Simon's signet Ring on his behalf, perform a brave deed. Ever since, Cantervilles have been craven. Now, in 1943, a platoon of US soldiers is billeted in the castle, owner of which is the six-year-old Lady Jessica; one of the soldiers, Cuffy, makes friends with Jessica and the Ghost, proves to be a remote Canterville descendant, and indeed performs a brave deed, thereby ending the Haunting. Though enlivened by the performance of O'Brien, this comedy grates: with the odd racist crack against Native Americans, it preaches a form of US cultural imperialism that involves the desecration of other societal values. But the spfx (uncredited) are good. [JG]

2. UK/US movie (1986 tvm). HTV/Poundridge/Interhemisphere/Columbia. Pr Peter Graham Scott. Exec pr Patrick Dromgoole, Irwin Meyer, Rodney Sheldon. Dir Paul Bogart. Screenplay George Zateslo. Starring John Gielgud (Sir Simon de Canterville), Harold Innocent (Hummle Umney), Lila Kaye (Mrs Umney), Andrea Marcovicci (Lucy Canterville), Alyssa Milano (Jennifer Canterville), Ted Wass (Harry Canterville), Bill Wallis (Professor Fenton Cook). 96 mins. Colour.

Americans Harry, Lucy and Jennifer inherit the Canterville title, and arrive from Cleveland to occupy the ancestral pile, little realizing it is haunted by the Ghost of Sir Simon, whose cupidity, 300 years ago, caused the death of his daughter and then, through accident, his wife; the ghost has driven away every Canterville ever to try to occupy the castle. Child Jennifer soon makes friends with the ghost, and begs him to drive off Lucy, her new Stepmother. When it emerges that Harry must sell the castle to a multinational hotel chain if the family is financially to survive, all priorities are changed. Harry takes up Sir Simon's challenge to somehow keep the castle in Canterville hands; Jennifer pleads directly to the Angel of Death that Sir Simon be allowed to die, and herself accepts Lucy into the family.

There is a lot of loose plotting and the feel that this is Beetlejuice (1988) without the budget – which reflects interestingly on the origins of Beetlejuice, which was the later movie – while the nutty parapsychological researcher Cook might have come from Poltergeist (1982), but nonetheless this has more of the spirit of Wilde's tale than does 1. The minor parts – notably the butler-and-housekeeper couple the Umneys – are especially well played, but Milano steals the show, even from under Gielgud's nose. [JG]

3. UK Animated Movie (1990 tvm). Emerald City/Taffner. Pr Al Guest, Jean Mathieson. Dir Guest, Mathieson. Screenplay Guest, Mathieson. 48 mins. Colour.

A simplified retelling. The Otises buy Canterville Castle and commonsensically confound the Ghost. Variable animation (some good, most not), lousy lip-sync and voicing, an adequate script and much unabashed repeat looping. [JG]

4. UK/US movie (1995 tvm). Anasazi/Signboard Hill/Hallmark. Pr Robert Benedetti. Exec pr Richard Welsh. Dir Syd Macartney. Spfx Peter Hutchinson. Screenplay Benedetti. Starring Daniel Betts (Francis), Neve Campbell (Virginia Otis), Cherie Lunghi (Lucille Otis), Leslie Phillips (Lord Canterville), Joan Sims (Mrs Umney), Donald Sinden (Mr Umney), Patrick Stewart (Sir Simon de Canterville, the Ghost), Edward Wiley (Hiram Otis). circa 90 mins. Colour.

In some ways a fairly straightforward retelling, although with interesting overlays concerning the role Perception plays in the ability to experience a Haunting, and observations on the difficulties fathers may have in relating to adolescent daughters, and vice versa. Modest yet really rather affecting, this features – in addition to all else – some glorious moments as Stewart (a Shakespearean stage actor before joining Star Trek – The Next Generation) utters cod-Shakespeare superbly. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.