The Canterville Ghost (1944 film)

The Canterville Ghost
Directed by Jules Dassin
Norman Z. McLeod (uncredited)
Produced by Arthur Field
Written by Edwin Blum
Oscar Wilde (story)
Starring Charles Laughton
Robert Young
Margaret O'Brien
Music by George Bassman
Edited by Chester Schaeffer
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • July 28, 1944 (1944-07-28) (New York City)
Running time
95 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Canterville Ghost is a 1944 fantasy/comedy film directed by Jules Dassin, loosely based on the short story of the same title by Oscar Wilde. It starred Charles Laughton as a ghost doomed to haunt an English castle and Robert Young as his American descendant called upon to perform an act of bravery to redeem him.[1][2]

It was remade as a TV movie in of the same name in 1986 and again in 1996.


In the seventeenth century, Sir Simon de Canterville (Charles Laughton) is forced by the Code of Chivalry to engage in a duel on behalf of his brother, but flees to the family castle when his opponent is substituted for by a giant (played by an uncredited Tor Johnson). His proud father, Lord Canterville (Reginald Owen), refuses to acknowledge that his son has disgraced the family name, even when shown in front of witnesses where Simon is cowering. The father has the only entrance to his son's hiding place bricked over as proof that Simon is not there, ignoring Simon's pleas for mercy. Lord Canterville then curses his doomed cowardly son to find no rest until "a kinsman shall perform an act of bravery" in his name.

Next, during World War II, US Army Rangers are billeted in the castle, owned now by a six-year-old Lady Jessica de Canterville (Margaret O'Brien). One of the men is Cuffy Williams (Robert Young). The Rangers encounter Sir Simon but rather than being terrorized, humiliate the ghost with a mock haunting. With Cuffy's help, Jessica overcomes her own terror of the ghost. Jessica discovers that Cuffy is a Canterville by a distinctive birthmark. Together, the two meet and learn the fate of their ghostly ancestor. One night, Simon takes Cuffy on a tour of the family portrait gallery, recounting the cowardly act of each descendant. Cuffy scoffs at Simon's misgivings and boasts that he is different.

However, when the moment of crisis comes, as his platoon conducts a commando raid in France, Cuffy seems to be a true Canterville and is paralyzed by fear in combat. Disgraced and leaving the Rangers, Cuffy is faced with an unexploded parachute mine threatening his platoon with destruction and is again overcome with fear. However, when Lady Jessica inadvertently activates the mine trying to inspire him, Cuffy hitches the bomb behind a jeep and steers it into a ravine. The courageous act finally frees Sir Simon from his centuries of bondage.



The motion picture was shot at Busch Gardens in Pasadena, California. This was the first feature film edited by Chester Schaeffer. According to Laughton's biographer, Charles Higham, Norman Z. McLeod began direction of the film but was replaced after five weeks when he failed to win the actor's confidence. When Dassin was hired to finish the film, Laughton assisted him with suggestions made out of hearing of cast and crew. Robert H. Planck replaced William Daniels as cinematographer at the same time and is credited with the grainy texture of the black and white production. Of Laughton's performance, Higham wrote that it combined "burlesque, melodrama, pathetic farce, the comedy of manners, and outright tragedy in a rich range."[3]


John Howard Reid selected The Canterville Ghost as one entry for his 2005 book, Movies Magnificent: 150 Must-See Cinema Classics.[4]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

See also


  1. Variety film review; May 31, 1944, page 20.
  2. Harrison's Reports film review; June 3, 1944, page 90.
  3. Higham, Charles (1976). Charles Laughton: An Intimate Biography, Doubleday, ISBN 0-385-09403-5.
  4. Reid, John Howard. Movies Magnificent: 150 Must-See Cinema Classics. ISBN 978-1-4116-5067-1.
  5. "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-19.

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