January 30th, 2013

Wircelia's Heather

A Dish Best Served in Florida

What's the difference between a thistle in the heather and a kiss in the dark? That's the riddle from 1936's The Ghost Goes West. I can't find an official answer anywhere and every answer I can think of sounds a bit lame, like, "Kisses are fun more often than thistles are." Of course, that's the point, since it's posed as a riddle in the movie to beautiful young girls who must answer it before the gentleman posing the question finishes spelling "Killarney" or pay forfeit, which is a kiss. Despite the choice of Killarney as a word to spell, the gentleman who came up with this little scheme was Murdoch Glourie, a Scot, who dies within the first few minutes of the film in a manner playing off stereotypes of Scotsmen as small minded grudge-bearers and whisky drinkers. Heaven, apparently, is in agreement with this attitude as Murdoch is doomed to haunt Glourie Castle after his death for not repaying the insult of a rival clan, and must continue to haunt the Earth until the insult is repaid. This sets the stage for an amusing little romantic comedy, and in the United Kingdom it was the top grossing film of 1936.

Robert Donat plays two roles in the film as modern day (1930s) bachelor Donald Glourie and as Donald's ancestor and modern day ghost Murdoch. Donald's been compelled by debtors to sell Glourie castle, which he's unable to do due to its reputation as being haunted, until Eugene Pallette shows up as the multimillionaire owner of a supermarket franchise and he brings with him the film's female lead, his daughter, Peggy, played by Jean Parker, who happens to love ghosts and also happens to not be terribly great at riddles.

She loses the game when she meets Murdoch after midnight on the battlements, but accidentally pays the forfeit later to a flustered Donald, which is the sort of sweet, comical misunderstanding that reappears throughout the film.

Pallette's character decides to take apart Glourie Castle and rebuild it in Florida, taking its parts back on a cruise ship, unknowingly bringing Murdoch along too, who displays indignation for the treatment he receives upon inadvertently stumbling into a costume ball. Meanwhile, we're given some fan service of Jean Parker's legs as a little dog frustrates her attempts to play table tennis.

I love 1930s pretexts for surreptitious cheesecake.

When word gets around in the states that the proprietor of the famous chain of supermarkets is bringing a ghost, Pallette decides it's a publicity opportunity and invites the media into the reassembled castle along with a sceptical psychic played with more charm and air of wit than is necessary--but far from unwelcome--in the part by Elsa Lanchester.

The movie's portrayal of Americans, largely through Pallette, as a people who like to hide radios in everything from suits of armour to whisky kegs is pretty funny.

Hmm. The difference between a thistle in the heather and a kiss in the dark . . . I still don't know. Moisture?

Twitter Sonnet #472

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