Jacques Tati plays a run down manor's ghost named Alain de Francigny, in Sylvia & the Phantom (Sylvie et le Fantome, 1946), Tati's first comedy, adapted from a play.
The ghost of Alain befriends teenage Sylvia (Odette Joyeux) who is the granddaughter of the woman for whom Alain died in a duel.
Sylvia gets a crush on the romantic ghost & begins to fret she will never find love among the living.
On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, a thief & a suitor each disguise themselves as the manor ghost, while the actual ghost is also abroad.
As a farce Sylvia & the Phantom is fairly tepid, the ghost only mildly interesting, the dreamy desires of a young girl slightly more interesting.
As ghost comedies go, this doesn't compare favorably to The Canterville Ghost (1944) or Topper (1937), & as a romantic ghost story it is not the equal of A Portrait of Jenny (1948). But it's sweet.
Although Oscar Wilde's comedic short story has often re-filmed, the 1944 version of The Canterville Ghost is as yet at no risk of being shoved aside from its classic status. Though anyone who actually wished it bore greater relationship to the story it alleges to be based upon may prefer any one of several telefilm adaptations that more resemble Wilde's tale.
The main thing in the first version's favor is it has Charles Laughton as the ghost Sir Simon, & he brings the most amazing balance of whimsy & pathos to the role.
Sir Simon haunts the manor because his father cursed him as a coward & walled him up quite horrifically. He cannot be released to the better fate of spirits until someone of his blood performs an heroic deed. There have since been several generations with only cowards, & Sir Simon has come to a point of sad resignation to his fate.
But now a soldier, from the American branch of Sir Simon's lineage, has arrived during World War II, his troop is billeted in the haunted manor preparatory for D-Day.
Robert Young plays Cuffy of the American branch of the family, & he's as charming a figure as ever appeared in a light comedy.
Cuffy's definitely not the bravest chap, but even a skittish soldier might in a pinch rise to the occasion, & there's not much suspense awaiting the inevitable, though there's plenty of emotional satisfaction.
Child star Margaret O'Brien as the wee heir of the manor turns in a performance as brilliant as the adults, not just the annoying cutesie-poo child of Meet Me In St Louis (1944), but a really well developed character performance startling for a child. Her relationship with Sir Simon has a certain beauty.
Her presence (in addition to that of Laughton) made this film a great joy to me when I saw it on television when myself a child. I fret that today's children, used to video games & cartoons & films packed with short-attention-span mayhem, might not have the same affection for Margaret & Charles which I had. But I expect at least the coolest of oddball children would still be captivated by this.
Edwin Blum's script is packed with honest to gosh humor, not guffaw-inducing generally (though a bit of slapstick is provided by Rags Ragland & Frank Faylan as GIs turned ghosthunters), but persistent smiles will afflict the viewer.
The comic timing of the primary cast is so good one would think they'd be stand-up comics first & foremost. If not for the ghost this would be a pretty straightforward "screwball comedy" but Laughton's character lends it so much more.
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