Turner Classic Movies cable channel decided that during the month of September they would show films from the “Disney Vault”, so to speak. Not the animated films Disney is most famous for but the films the studio made with human actors and actresses, and a lot of special effects. A couple weeks ago, I watched […]
Turner Classic Movies cable channel decided that during the month of September they would show films from the “Disney Vault”, so to speak. Not the animated films Disney is most famous for but the films the studio made with human actors and actresses, and a lot of special effects. A couple weeks ago, I watched one that was new to me. I decided to see it due to it's cast: Peter Ustinov(Yes! The oscar winning british actor was in a Disney film!!), Dean Jones, Suzanne Pleshette, and Elsa Lanchester. From 1968, in living color, Blackbeard's Ghost is a fun movie to view.
Dean Jones, as he often was cast, is the hapless hero of the film. He plays Steve Walker, newly hired track coach for small Godolphin College, on the Carolina coast. ( Having lived in SC myself, there is a bit of historical lore that Blackbeard did hang out in Charleston, SC but since I heard no southern accents in this film, I assumed Godolphin was in NC; the film doesn't clearly specify the geographic location.) The college booked Steve a room at an old inn, Blackbeard's Inn, and the place is run by a group of little old ladies(Elsa Lanchester being the main owner) who are all descended from Blackbeard, who evidently got around-ahem, he had a lot of wives, but wasn't a polygamist!
When Steve arrives at the inn, there is a festival occurring, as a fundraiser for the little old ladies to be able to buy off the rest of the mortgage and get a local gambler off of their backs. Gambler Silky Seymour(Joby Baker) wants to buy out the mortgage for the inn, take it away from the old bags(as he calls them) and turn the place into a casino. Since the inn sits on a small island off shore, the state government can't tax this casino. Suzanne Pleshette(Prof. Jo Ann Baker) is at the festival running a Kissing Booth. Steve can't help but notice her and hands over a dollar for a kiss. It's s fun “meet cute” moment for the two characters. Steve soon learns that the football coach at Godolphin, Pinetop Purvis(Michael Conrad of Hill Street Blues fame) is very interested in Jo Ann, and has a lot of distain for the track team. We soon learn that the track team members are a bunch of non-athletic bumblers, nice guys, but horrible at track. An auction is announced, and to impress Jo Ann, Steve decides to bid on an antique bed warmer. He is also showing local gambling kingpin Silky that he's not afraid to financially donate to the little old ladies so they can save their inn. Coach Purvis sees that Steve is bidding, realizes it may impress Jo Ann, so he joins in the bidding war to also impress her. Steve wins the bed warmer, impresses Jo Ann, makes Purvis irritated, as well as Silky. When Steve retires for the evening, he accidentally breaks off the handle on the bedwarmer and finds in it a scroll, with spells written on it. He laughs at his find, and feeling silly, he reads a spell outloud. With lightening flashes, thunder rumblings, and the camera panning over to a portrait of a creepy looking gal with huge eyes, Blackbeard's ghost appears, and only Steve can see and hear him.
Blackbeard(Peter Ustinov, having a lot of fun) tells Steve that one of his ex-wives, who he accused of witchcraft, was being burned at the stake and she put a curse on him. Until he conducts an act of human kindness, he will remain in “Limbo”. I won't delve into the plot anymore, but I will leave you with questions! Can the little old ladies save their inn from the clutches of the greedy gambler, Silky? Can Steve turn the track team around into winners? Can Steve win the heart of Jo Ann, and thwart Coach Purvis?? Will Blackbeard do a deed of human kindness and be able to exit Limbo?
As I wrote earlier, Ustinov has a lot of fun playing the pirate. He is feisty, crafty, but not outright evil, as the real Blackbeard probably was. He and Jones have a good rapport in all of their scenes together, and with Jones's Steve being the only one who can see the ghost, when he is yelling at Ustinov, and bystanders only see Steve yelling at the air, it makes for some funny moments of miscommunication. Disney's special effects team had a lot to do in this film, to show the ghost's antics in his efforts to help Steve and the little old ladies, and the track team. Pleshette and Jones make a cute couple, which they did in some other Disney films, and it's great to see them together in this film too.
My only caveat is that this film is probably going to be boring to young kids, 5 and younger, and the scene where there is a volatile reaction to Steve reciting the spell may scare kids who are sensitive to such stuff on films. For pre-teens, teens and adults, this is a fun film to view. So get that popcorn popping, and as the weather turns colder, view this film-perhaps a good choice for Halloween weekend? Some kind soul has put the entire film on Youtube! Since the film was made in 1968, it possibly is still available at your local dvd renting store. It is also available to buy or view through instant rent at Amazon.
Filed under: Movies Tagged: Dean Jones, Elsa Lanchester, Joby Baker, Michael Conrad, Peter Ustinov, Richard Deacon, Suzanne Pleshette