9 March 2007 | Bunuel1976
PHANTOM SHIP (Denison Clift, 1935) **
I had always been interested in checking out this seafaring thriller due to Bela Lugosi's involvement; still, now I can't help feeling that the over-age star was miscast in the role of a hapless 'old man of the sea' who bears an Ahab-like grudge against the "Mary Celeste" and is also something of a religious fanatic (the inspiration for this was, perhaps, Boris Karloff's impressive turn in John Ford's desert adventure THE LOST PATROL ). That said, his final descent into madness (uncommonly vicious for the time but, then, the film is based on a factual incident!) is fairly well handled.
Ultimately, however, the British-made picture fails to rise above its 'quota quickie' status - Lugosi himself fared much better with the later DARK EYES OF London (1939) - and can't honestly compare with the similar Val Lewton-produced THE GHOST SHIP (1943); moreover, it is fatally compromised by the director's baffling decision to keep much of the central action off-screen (either due to budgetary limitations or he must have been an admirer of Tod Browning)! Considering some of the choppy editing involved, though, I'm inclined to believe the film's official length as given by the IMDb - i.e. 80 minutes, rather than the 62-minute version I saw (culled from the Image DVD).
There's also the insipid - but mandatory - romantic interest to contend with here, to say nothing of various songs by the leading lady (with piano accompaniment) and an organ-playing sailor, which are a chore to sit through...but the latter musical instrument's come-uppance at the hands of the angry first mate does provide some unintended hilarity!
P.S. Though it hadn't been officially named as yet, the company that made this film is actually Hammer Films; as a matter of fact, I first came upon PHANTOM SHIP (under its original title of THE MYSTERY OF THE MARY CELESTE) via a still in an article about the famed British "House Of Horror" in an early 1980s periodical...