Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Actor Arnold Ridley had an inspiration after he had been stranded at a railroad station in Bristol one night in 1923 and he turned that inspiration into a play, The Ghost Train.  The play was a huge hit and ran for almost a year and half (from 1925 to 1927) in its original London run.

It was turned into a silent motion picture in 1931.  Directed by Walter Forde, it starred comic stage actor Jack Hulbert.  Only five reels of the film are known to survive; the only known complete copy of the film had been seized and destroyed by British Customs for copyright infringement.

But the play was popular and a 1937 film was based on it, along with another 1937 film (Oh, Mr. Porter!) based on that version of the film.  (Confused yet?)  Late that same year, the BBC broadcast a well-received 40 minute version of the play.  And in 1939 Der Spooktrein, a German version, was filmed.

The version we are discussing today was made in 1941 and film critic Leslie Hallowell has said that it is almost a scene by scene remake of the 1931 film -- even using some of the surviving footage from the earlier film.   The major differences between the two films were that the 1941 film was updated to World War II and that one character's role had been split into two roles.

The 1941 version was directed once again by Walter Forde (The Gaunt Stranger, Alias Bulldog Drummond, an a string of others over a 30-year career).  This version was written by J. O. C. Orton, who had written the Oh, Mr. Porter! four years earlier.  Added dialogue was written by now legendary writer/director Val Guest and Marriot Edgar, both of whom co-wrote the Oh, Mr. Porter! screenplay with Orton.

The film starred Arthur Askey (a well-known British comedian), Richard Murdoch (best-known now for his role as Uncle Tom in the Rumpole series of mysteries), and Kathleen Harrison (an accomplished character actress perhaps best known for her Cockney accent and her role as Mrs. Dilber in the Alistair Sim version of Scrooge). 

Among the rest of the cast were Raymond Huntley (who was the first actor to play Dracula on stage), Betty Jardine (who happened to have a small role in Oh, Mr. Porter!), and Linden Travers (The Lady Vanishes and the title role in No Orchids for Miss Blandish).

The hackneyed plot involves a group of passengers who are stranded at a railway station.  The station manager tries to warn them away with the story of a phantom train that goes throught the station and all who see the train are doomed.  Normal right-thinking Britishers, of course, would see through such a ploy, but this is a film of course, so they don't.  The atmosphere, the special effects (such as they are), and the all-star cast of (mainly) stage actors make this one worth a lokk.

Most recently, the BBC did another radio version of the play, which has aired at least four times since 2008.  The Ghost Train still lives!


Todd will have the links to more of today's Overlooked Films at his blog, sweetfreedom.


  1. When we were in London in the mid-nineties, there was a station on the tube that was no longer used. I often tried to come up with a plot to service it. Never did.

    1. Well, Stephen King would probably have the abandoned station eat people, Ray Bradbury would have the entire community cheering at the station to cheer on an imagined train that would come just once a year, and Lee Child might have Reacher stumble onto some wide conspiracy about why the station was abandoned. And Patti Abbott? Well, Patti Abbott will come up with something new and totally entertaining.

  2. Fascinating choice Jerry - I've only seen the 1941 version as well as listened to the most recent BBC radio version of the play.

    However, a couple of small nitpicky points - the 1931 Jack Hulbert movie is definitely sound and not silent - is it possible you're thinking of the 1927 German adaptation, Der Geisterzug, perhaps, which may be the one that infringed on the copyright? Also, the British writer's surname was spelled Halliwell.

    Thanks for all the great info.


    1. Nitpicky points are always welcome, Sergio. Thanks.