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RETURN TO GLENNASCAUL

An interesting obscurity from 1951, of note primarily because of an extended appearance by Orson Welles, who also narrates the film.  This 23-minute short is no masterpiece, but it’s worth viewing for Welles fans (which I most certainly am) and those looking for solid, old-fashioned ghost story thrills. 

The Package 
     Orson Welles appeared in RETURN TO GLENNASCAUL during a break on his production of OTHELLO (which, incidentally, was completed in 1952) as a favor to the film’s writer/director Hilton Edwards.  MPI’s video release titles it ORSON WELLES’ GHOST STORY—and features an introduction by filmmaker Peter Bogdonovich detailing the film’s history—but Welles only appears in RTG’s beginning and end segments, where he plays himself and makes some in-jokes (after the protagonist complains of problems with his car’s distributor, Welles answers that he’s had troubles with his distributors, too).  Welles also provides some superfluous narration that directly recalls the radio broadcasts that kicked off his career: he introduces himself as “Your obedient servant,” a stock phrase from Welles’ radio days.

The Story
     Orson Welles, exiting the Dublin set of OTHELLO, encounters Sean Merriman, a young man whose car has broken down.  Welles agrees to drive him home, and Merriman feels compelled to relate a ghostly incident from his past.
     According to Merriman, he was driving along the same road one night when he encountered two mysterious hooded ladies.  He drove them to Glennascaul (meaning “Glenn of the Shadows”), their stately mansion, where they all-but dragged him inside.  The interior of the mansion was every bit as opulent as the outside, complete with a number of priceless objects d’art.  It did, however, also possess an eerie, almost unearthly atmosphere, and Merriman found himself creeped out; he left hastily, but turned back, realizing he’d forgotten his cigarette case. 
     Upon returning to Glennascaul he discovers an ancient, deserted mansion.  Even creepier, his subsequent inquiries reveal that the women Merriman encountered have been dead for years.  The next day Merriman returns to Glennascaul once again, finding his own footprints in the dust of the long-abandoned environ... 

The Direction
     RETURN TO GLENNASCAUL’S story may be a bit thin, but writer/director Hilton Edwards conjures up an extremely vivid atmosphere with his expert use of light and shadow and, most effective of all, a haunting solo harp score reminiscent of the famous zither music from THE THIRD MAN.  The Dublin locations are also strikingly utilized (the film isn’t subtitled A STORY THAT IS TOLD IN DUBLIN for nothing).
     Far less enchanting are Edwards’ lame attempts at humor, in particular Welles’ industry in-jokes (incomprehensible to all but the most ardent film buffs) and a dumb last-minute encounter with a couple old ladies.  It’s moments like those that keep this film from achieving its full potential; it’s an interesting, oft-effective trifle, certainly, but a classic it definitely ain’t. 


Vital Statistics 

RETURN TO GLENNASCAUL: A STORY THAT IS TOLD IN DUBLIN (a.k.a. ORSON WELLES’ GHOST STORY)
Dublin Gate Theatre 

Director: Hilton Edwards
Producers: Hilton Edwards, Michael MacLiammoir
Screenplay: Hilton Edwards
Cinematography: George Fleischmann
Editor: Joseph Sterling
Cast: Orson Welles, Michael Laurence, Shelah Richards, Helena Hughes, John Dunne, Isobel Couser, Ann Clery
 


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