Boris Karloff is certainly the most famous actor in “The Ghoul” (Metro, 1933), but he is surrounded by several of Britain’s finest and most eccentric actors. A very young Ralph Richardson (he was not yet a knight) makes his screen debut in a small, amusing role; the sublimely witty oddball, Ernest Thesiger, plays Karloff’s sepulchral Scottish butler; Kathleen Harrison (perhaps best known for her performance as Alastair Sim’s housekeeper, Mrs Dilber, in “A Christmas Carol”) is in it and up to her old tricks; and there’s a very droll performance by Cedric Hardwicke, who plays a cantankerous, shifty-eyed solicitor. He was not a knight yet, either. His investiture took place the following year, and was performed by King George V. The cares of state had made the monarch old before his time; by 1934, he was almost deaf and a little bit dotty, but he performed the ceremony perfectly until the last moment. The knight-elect knelt upon the knighting-stool before The King, who duly laid the sword blade on Hardwicke’s right and then left shoulder. Then followed several seconds of uneasy silence; the new knight remained motionless, waiting for the royal command to rise. But His Majesty, as an unperfect actor on the stage, had gone up on his lines. At length, a courtier prompted the befuddled sovereign. Then spake King George in a loud, clear voice: “Rise, Sir Cedric Pickwick.”
There are many fun sequences in “The Ghoul,” and a lot of good acting, but the flat-footed direction is so lethargic that it feels much longer than its 77 minutes.
Richardson Calls, Thesiger Answers
Karloff is upstairs on his deathbed. Ralph Richardson, a burglar posing as a clergyman, comes to the door to offer comfort or, if need be, last rites to the unfortunate sinner. Ernest Thesiger is having none of it. To be honest, there’s not a lot going on in this scene, but the very idea of Ernest Thesiger and Ralph Richardson acting together in a horror picture makes me happy.
Thesiger Takes Karloff’s Last Orders
Here we have dear old Ernest being given instructions by Karloff.
Thesiger Takes Command
Karloff has died. Ernest has much to do. Sir Cedric Hardwicke comes looking for something he doesn’t find and promises to make trouble. Ernest and Sir Cedric make a very funny pair. I wish they had done “Waiting for Godot” together.