Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Return to Glennascaul

Return to Glennascaul : a story that is told in Dublin, [Royle presents a Hilton Edwards and Micheál Mac Liammóir, Dublin Gate Theatre production]. 23 minutes. Screenplay and direction by Hilton Edwards ; editor, Joseph Sterling ; music, Hans Gunther Stumpf. Shot on location in Dublin, 1951. With Orson Welles, Michael Laurence, Shelah Richards, Helena Hughes. Narrated by Orson Welles.

"Until the day break and the shadows flee away." Song of Solomon 2-17

I first saw Return to Glennascaul in an art movie theatre in Albuquerque about 15 years ago. It was coupled with, as I recall, The Lady from Shanghai. Later I saw it a few more times on VHS and DVD. But first, a confession : the whole thing has such a Welles look and feel that I naturally assumed he was the director, only later to learn that this was not the case, though it’s generally assumed that he had some input into Hilton Edwards’ otherwise splendid direction. In any case, I took to it immediately, especially the noir-like aspects -- voice-over narration, shadowy photography, femmes fatales [of a sort]. 

But in the end, in style and presentation anyway, it’s really an old-fashioned ghost story, notable more for its irresistibly gloomy atmosphere (love the harp music in the background!) than polish of execution. It occurs to me that it would have made a perfect segment for a Twilight Zone episode but to my knowledge it was never shown on American TV, in the 1950s anyway.
I don’t have a lot more to add regarding the substance of the film*. Kimberly Lindbergs  has penned an excellent review at MovieMorlocks. There's another fine review at Kev's Cupboard.

Anyway, I find myself in harmony with Lindbergs’ opinion that, for all its spookiness, Glennascaul is at heart a romance. A meditation on love and death, if you will, and a search for infinite redemption across time and space - and mortality itself - similar in spirit to films like The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and Uninvited (was the 1940s the golden age of ghost movies?). And of course the film’s Ireland pedigree conjures up memories of the Tristan and Isolde legend.

One criticism : the filmmakers seem to go out of their way to stress the story’s Irish bonafides, but all the characters [Welles excepted] speak with proper, upper-class English accents. But this is such a minor complaint for this otherwise immensely enjoyable curiosity, at once eccentric and haunting, in more ways than one.
* Should I keep referring to Glennascaul as a ‘film,’ since it only runs 23 minutes?

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