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The Ghosts Of Berkeley Square (1947)

The much-derided "golf" segment in Dead Of Night has few friends, which is a shame really as it is funny, intelligent and reasonably spooky. Its main problem is that it's nowhere near as scary as the rest of the film, which puts it at somewhat of a disadvantage.

But if you take a deep breath and watch it as it was intended to be viewed, as a piece of light-hearted whimsy related by a non-believing cast member to lighten the mood, it makes perfect sense. But what if that whimsical approach to the walking dead was expanded into a full-length feature film? Would it have any worth, or would it just be a painfully unfunny, deeply unscary piece of hokum without an audience?

The Ghosts Of Berkeley Square gives us the chance to find out. In it the horror is so diluted beneath a ton of witty badinage, flag-waving jingoism and post wartime propaganda as to be virtually non-existent, but it does feature ghosts (in a Rentaghost sort of way) and it is British. As "British" as fox hunting, casual racism and a thousand other unsavoury pastimes. So let's join Bulldog and Jumbo, our portly heroes, and find out a bit more about it...

The film opens with an introduction to the "Old Ghosts Association", a group attempting to build a better "esprit de corpse" with the living (ho ho). To do this they tell the tale of Bulldog (Felix Aylmer) and Jumbo (Robert Morley), a couple of extremely camp generals who love war so much that they are determined to talk the Duke of Malborough out of the tactics he wants to employ to end the 100 years war.

Realising that he's a formidable man ("Talk him out of it? He's a Churchill!" oops little bit of propaganda there), they decide on a slightly more permanent solution to the problem, in the form of a fatal trapdoor - but when testing it they neglect to put a mattress down to cushion their fall and end up dead.

Quite how this pair of buffoons rose to the rank of general isn't expanded upon, but their nefarious plan has not gone unnoticed by the powers-that-be in heaven, and they soon find themselves cursed to haunt their Berkeley Square home until it is visited by royalty. Realising that they need to stop the curse by making sure the new owners actually know some royalty, Bulldog and Jumbo decide to scare off anyone who hasn't got the necessary connections. And so the invisible japery begins. Sadly, they make such a good job of their first target that the house becomes unsellable, and for 60 years it stands empty.

Finally, in 1775 a French madame arrives and turns the stately pile into a high class knocking shop. Discovering that they can fully materialise, the Generals are soon "playing" with the girls, which leads to a big punch-up and a distinct lack of royalty, with the brothel being closed down before a palace visit can occur.

The house then goes through several governmental ownerships, and in 1851 becomes multi-cultural for the Great Exhibition, leading to the great line "Good heavens! Mongols!"

This, apparently, calls for "aggressive action" from the right-wing ghosts and soon the entire household has moved out into the garden to get away from the violent hauntings (prompting yet more comedy racism when an "interpreter" speaks other languages by the simple expedient of going "Aboodaboo! Aboodaboo!").

"A black fella! What comes of having an empire..."

The "haunted house" then becomes an exhibit, but much to the ghosts' chagrin still fails to find a royal audience.

Time moves on and it's 1877. The "Narwab of Bogwash" (Robert Morley again, this time with boot polish on his face) arrives to take up residence (prompting yet more casual offensiveness from our zombie chums: "A black fella! What comes of having an empire..." / "Having an empire is all very well, but you don't want it in the house!")

Still no royalty, and the timeline is moving perilously close to "present day". It's 1900 and the house has become an army hospital as the film moves from gentle farce to full-on propaganda machine. The ghosts just have time for a sing-song with some shell-shocked squaddies before it becomes 1914 and a zeppelin scores a direct hit on the property. The Queen comes to survey the damage, and Bulldog and Jumbo can finally take their leave. "Going up..."

The Ghosts Of Berkeley Square is a period piece - a weird slice of British entertainment from a time when the country was waging war with half of Europe but there was still always time to have a pop at the blacks. Quite how anyone thought that the idea of centuries of undead torment equates as a cheering tale of British pluck is beyond this reviewer, particular when you consider what a pair of idiots the supposed heroes are.

Directed by Vernon Sewell
Writers: Caryl Brahms (novel "No Nightingales") and S.J. Simon (novel "No Nightingales"), James Seymour (adapted for the screen by)
Cast: Robert Morley ... Gen. "Jumbo" Burlap / Nawab of Bagwash; Felix Aylmer ... Col. H. "Bulldog" Kelsoe; Yvonne Arnaud ... Millie; Claude Hulbert ... Merryweather; Abraham Sofaer ... Benjamin Disraeli; Ernest Thesiger ... Dr. Cruickshank of Psychical Research Society; Marie Lohr ... Lottie; Martita Hunt ... Lady Mary; A.E. Matthews ... Gen. Bristow (as A. E. Matthews); John Longden ... Mortimer Digby; Ronald Frankau ... Tex Farnum; Wilfrid Hyde-White ... Staff Captain (as Wilfred Hyde-White); Martin Miller ... Professor; Wally Patch ... Foreman; Esme Percy ... Vizier; Mary Jerrold ... Lettie

Updated: March 21, 2010

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