The Phantom Light
75mins. BW. UK.
Credits: Dir: Michael Powell; Prod: Jerome Jackson; Sc:
Austin Melford, J. Jefferson Farjeon & Ralph Smart; Ph: Geoffrey Faithfull; Art: A.
Vetchinsky; Mus: Lois Levy. From "The Haunted Light" a play by Evadane Price
& Joan Roy Byford.
Cast: Gordon Harker, Ian Hunter, Binnie Hale, Milton Rosmer, Donald Calthrop, Reginald Tate, Mickey
Brantford, Herbert Lomas, Fewlass Llewellyn,
Alice O'Day, Barry O'Neill, Edgar K. Bruce, Louie Emery, Johnny Singer.
Director Michael Powell really
came into his own during the Forties when, with his partner Emeric Pressburger, he made
such classics as The Thief of Bagdad (1940) and
the enthralling romantic fantasy A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (1946). In 1960 he made
Tom that was so steeped in controversy that it ended his career. Only a handful of his
twenty-four films made during the quota-quickie era in Thirties Britain are still in
existence including Gainsborough's THE PHANTOM LIGHT.
Near the coast of Wales, Sam
Higgins, (Gordon Harker), arrives at the sleepy Welsh village of Tan-y-Bwlch to take over
as chief lightkeeper of the North Stack Lighthouse. After reporting
for duty he hears the tales of the haunted lighthouse where it is said that those inside
go insane and kill themselves. It is also said that when vessels approach the lighthouse,
the light goes out and another "phantom" light appears on the cliffs luring the
ships onto the rocks below.
Despite all the warnings, Alice Bright, (Binnie Hale), and Jim Pearce, (Ian Hunter), are
both surprisingly eager to go to the lighthouse and travel there with Sam.
At the lighthouse Sam meets the gigantic Owen Claff, (Herbert Lomas), his assistant Bob and a raving
lunatic. During their stay footsteps are heard shuffling about, windows and doors open and
close suddenly to the accompaniment of howling winds.
Jim Pearce reveals himself to be a naval
officer investigating rumours that the villagers are planning to scupper the vessel
"Mary Fern" for the insurance money, as most of the inhabitants of Tan-y-Bwlch
own shares in the ship. Just as he is contacting the "Mary Fern" by wireless,
the raving lunatic knocks Jim unconscious and smashes the transmitter. On schedule the
light is put out and another appears on the cliffs above. Jim recovers and swims ashore to
summon a lifeboat to warn the oncoming ship. In the morning Claff is found dead and the
culprit has thrown himself into the sea to avoid the public humiliation of his capture.
The most that Sam can muster from his first time at the lighthouse is "lummee, wot
The film is unusual in that it
contains much more atmosphere than the budgets of these type of films normally allowed,
thanks to the eerie lighthouse location and photography by Geoffrey Faithfull (1894-1979)
who worked with Cecil Hepworth in 1908 for the then blossoming British film industry.
Meanwhile Herbert Lomas makes a lasting
impression as the oversized Owen Claff, but Gordon Harker (1885-1967) unfortunately comes
across as too belligerent a cockney to become a likeable character. If not taken in the
spirit of the film, his character's continuous wise-cracks become extremely annoying.
Nevertheless Harker maintained a long and fruitful career as similar characters in a
variety of British films. An additional minor flaw are the strained, stereotyped Welsh
accents of the remainder of the cast that provide most of the film's comic relief.
Although not strictly in the
horror genre, there is enough suspense and atmosphere to give it a borderline
classification with a dollop of comedy thrown in for good measure. If it's a Gainsborough
film you require of an evening, THE PHANTOM LIGHT will certainly fit the bill.
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