The Ghost Ship (1943)
(RKO.) 69mins. BW. US.
Credits: Dir: Mark Robson; Prod: Val Lewton; Sc: Donald Henderson Clarke; Ph:
Nicholas Musuraca; Ed: John Lockert; Art: Albert
S. D'Agostino & Walter E. Keller; Sets: Darrell Silvera & Claude Carpenter;
Sfx: Vernon L. Walker; Mus: Roy Webb. From a story by Leo Mittler.
Cast: Richard Dix, Russell Wade, Edith Barrett, Ben
Bard, Edmund Glover, Skelton Knaggs, Sir
Lancelot, Lawrence Tierney.
Due to unaccountable legal problems THE GHOST SHIP remained unavailable to the
public for many years until it appeared as part of a BBC 2 season of never-before-screened
films. It came as no surprise that this production is a worthy addition to the already
acclaimed collection of films produced by Val Lewton on meagre budgets for RKO Studios.
Lewton was commended for the type of effective psychological thrillers he could produce at
a profit for very little money and soon the other studios tried to emmulate his style, but
they had to spend twice as much to acheive anything close to the mood and feel of Lewton's
Despite the lack of supernatural elements, THE GHOST SHIP was one of a new brand of
horror films that combine a strong element of film noir with unrelenting suspense
supported by an intelligently written script.
Thomas Merriam, (Russell Wade), boards the S.S. Altair as the newly assigned Third
Officer and is warmly welcomed by Captain Stone, (Richard Dix), who personally chose this
new recruit. One of the crew, a mute, (Skelton
Knaggs), is given a voice to his thoughts by the filmakers when he suggests that
something is not quite right amongst the crew. When the body
of an absent shipmate is discovered the mute is heard to think that this will not be the
only death before the voyage is over.
Certain events that follow only confirm the mute's thoughts. Under the Captain's orders a
freshly painted hook is left to swing freely during rough weather and Stone watches on in
amusement as the crew try to keep it under control. During a life-saving appendix
operation, the Captain loses his nerve and assigns Merriam the task of amateur surgeon.
With two of the crew indisposed the recurring sea shanty "Blow the Man Down"
begins to take on a sinister tone. When the ship pulls in to San Sebatian
another crew member meets his demise under the crushing weight of the anchor chain
prompting Merriam to accuse Capt. Stone of being a homicidal maniac. Unfortunately none of
the crew has the courage to back up Merriam's accusations for fear of losing their jobs. Merriam is convinced that he is to be the next victim on the
Captain's list, but before his friend "Sparks" can warn Merriam, the radio
operator is mysteriously thrown overboard.
Now tied to his bunk, Merriam sees the insane Captain make ready to plunge a knife into
his chest, but at the last moment, the mute crewmember who has known of the Captain's
condition wrestles with him in a bloody battle that leaves the Captain dead.
Mirriam takes over as Captain and with the surviving crew they head home.
Skelton Knaggs shines as the sinister
mute, a character who is implied as the killer in the film's earlier stages.
Richard Dix a former leading man during the 20's and 30's, gives one of his finest
performances of the last handful of roles before his death in 1949.
Mark Robson, a director of considerable talent, had earlier been an editor for Val Lewton on The
Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie and The Leopard Man then became a director for
Lewton on The Seventh Victim, THE GHOST SHIP,
The Isle of the Dead (1945) and the delightful Bedlam (1946).
Robson's greatest success came during the 1950's, but his earlier contributions to the
genre, including THE GHOST SHIP, will be what he is mostly appreciated for.
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