(1943)3Bruce EderDirected by Mark Robson and produced by Val Lewton, The Ghost Ship is very much a relic of Hollywood's 1940s fixation on psychology -- indeed, it may well remind some modern viewers of Stuart Heisler's earlier Among The Living. And elements of its performances and structure will seem superficially creaky today, they've been imitated so many times in the decades since its production. But in 1943, this movie was genuinely disturbing and quietly horrific, and a look at more than two minutes of it quickly reveals that it has lost little of that power, even in the face of waves of imitators. Russell Wade gives the performance of a lifetime as the innocent caught up in the deadly game of survival with his deeply disturbed captain (Richard Dix) -- the latter's resonant voice and calm, dignified demeanor makes his ongoing breakdown and murderous impulses seem that much more threatening. And Wade and Dix get excellent support all the way through from Lawrence Tierney, Skelton Knaggs (in his biggest role), Sir Lancelot, Dewey Robinson, Herb Vigran, Edmund Glover, and Edith Barrett. Possibly the best of director Mark Robson's films, The Ghost Ship was considered lost for decades, and was the least known and most mysterious of all of Lewton's RKO thrillers. Although based on an original screenplay, the studio was successfully sued by playwrights Samuel R. Golding and Norbert Faulkner, and the movie disappeared from theaters, and had a very tenuous status in RKO's film library; technically, and legally, it wasn't supposed to be distributed, but with the sale of the company to General Tire, and the changing personnel involved (and, undoubtedly, some sloppy paperwork), the movie did make it out to a handful of television stations (most notably one in Philadelphia) in the 1970s and early 1980s, where it was seen, and videotaped, dubs of which were traded eagerly among fans. Then Turner Entertainment purchased the RKO library and, in the course of sorting out all of the loose ends and anomalies contained therein, cleared the rights to the movie for theatrical, television, and home video distribution in the late 1990s.
RKO horror producer Val Lewton dished up seven reels of brooding psychological terror with The Ghost Ship. Richard Dix stars as the ship's captain, a tortured soul who teeters on the verge of madness. Seaman Russell Wade notices the captain's deterioration, but his warnings are dismissed by the crew. Captain Dix completely goes over the edge, sadistically playing a game of cat and mouse with the luckless Wade--and endangering the lives of everyone on board. While the viewer may notice that Ghost Ship closely resembles the Jack London tale The Sea Wolf, playwrights Samuel R. Golding and Norbert Faulkner felt that the film was too close for comfort to an unproduced play of their own. The writers sued RKO, forcing the studio to withdraw Ghost Ship from theatres and prohibiting future TV showings.