The Ghost Train, The (1941 with Arthur Askey and Richard Murdoch)


UK / 1941

Director: Walter Forde
Writers: Marriott Edgar, Val Guest, J O C Orton, from the play by Arnold Ridley

Cast: Arthur Askey, Richard Murdoch, Kathleen Harrison, Pater Murray Hill, Linden Travers, Morland Graham, Herbert Lomas

The celebrated play by Arnold Ridley (who would later find fame as a star of television’s Dad’s Army) had seen sterling service on stage before Walter Forde filmed it in 1931 with Jack Hulbert in the lead. Forde was also at the helm of this entertaining remake, which was scripted by Marriott Edgar, Val Guest and J O C Orton: they split the leading role in two to accomodate the comic talents of Arthur Askey and Richard Murdoch. The result, said Motion Picture Herald, “is as strong a tonic for wartime blues as could be prayed for.”

Eight travellers – Askey, Murdoch, Kathleen Harrison, Morland Graham, Peter Murray Hill, Stuart Latham, Betty Jardine and Carole Lynn – are stranded one stormy night at Fal Vale railway station in Cornwall. Station master Herbert Lomas regales them with the sinister legend of the ghost train that is reputed to haunt the place. His tall tale is met with general disbelief but a series of strange happenings takes place – and Askey and Murdoch investigate. Then the ghost train materialises…

Forde puts over the lively mixture of comedy and thrills with zestful expertise and Askey, splendidly supported by Murdoch (his erstwhile partner in the seminal weekly radio series Band Wagon, 1938/9), dominates the proceedings with his inspired clowning as the seaside concert party artist who allows nothing to get him down. “It’s Askey’s film from first to last,” enthused Motion Picture Herald. “For there is scarcely a moment when he is off the screen. Askey is a brand of electric comedy eel, as funny in figure and gesture as in speech,” and went on to praise Murdoch, Harrison’s cockney spinster, Graham’s bibulous doctor and Jardine’s plebeian bride-to-be. For CEA Film Report, Askey’s performance “is lively and he is prominent throughout the show… the supporting cast is good.” The film, stated Monthly Film Bulletin, “is extremely well directed and produced… and, of course, since Arthur Askey plays the part of Tommy Gander, comedian, the fun is fast and furious in spite of the increasing tension as the plot develops. There are three other most admirable performances… Harrison… Graham… and Herbert Lomas as the station master.”

“The technical side of the film,” said Motion Picture Herald, “has been well cared for and the air of mystery is well textured, with the element of suspense inset effectively… Walter Forde directed, his sense of comedy and his capacity for drama serving him well.”