Friday, April 24, 2009

Horror: Road to Glennascaul (1951, Hilton Edwards)

Road to Glennascaul (1951)
Ireland, 23 min
Directed by: Hilton Edwards
Written by: Hilton Edwards
Starring: Orson Welles, Michael Laurence, Shelah Richards, Helena Hughes, John Dunne, Isobel Couser, Ann Clery

During a break in the filming of The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice (1952), Orson Welles takes the time to recount a creepy "tall tale" allegedly told to him by a broken-down motorist to whom he offered a ride. Welles plays himself in the film, acting not only as the narrator, but more involvedly as the resident storyteller. One can imagine that it was this role, in addition to his obvious talents on the radio, that inspired The Fountain of Youth (1958) – a wonderful half-hour television pilot for "The Orson Welles Show," which boasted a concept not dissimilar to "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," but with Welles taking a more active presence in each episode's production (inconceivably, the show was immediately rejected). One also suspects the film's influence on the BBC's brilliant "Ghost Story for Christmas" series, the most impressive of examples of which are A Warning to the Curious (1972) and The Signalman (1976) {adapted from stories by M.R. James and Charles Dickens, respectively}.

The best kind of ghost stories, I think, that those told through an intermediary – it keeps them grounded in reality, which paradoxically makes them all the more creepy. The viewer's natural inclination is to trust the narrator's word, but in this case the narrator must rely on the word of the motorist, Sean Merriman (Michael Laurence), who could be making the whole story up… or, he could be completely sincere. It's that uncertainty that makes Return to Glennascaul (1951) a perfectly chilling ghost tale, and a fine companion for a cold, lonely winter's night. We must not, of course, underestimate the emotional resonance of Welles' narrating voice, which contributes just as much atmosphere as Georg Fleischmann's hazy photography. The film was nominated for an Oscar in 1954, but lost out to Bear Country (1953), one of Wal Disney's two-reeler nature documentaries. In any case, think about Return to Glennascaul next time you decide to pick up two female hitch-hikers – I, for one, will be following Orson's example!

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