The Phantom Light is a 1935 British comedy thriller film produced by Jerome Jackson and directed by Michael Powell (Peeping Tom), based on Evadne Price and Joan Roy Byford’s play The Haunted Light. It stars Binnie Hale, Gordon Harker, Milton Rosmer and Herbert Lomas. The film makes a jokey reference to King Kong, released two years previously.
On the Welsh coast, Mr. Higgins, a new lighthouse keeper arrives. He’s informed the former keeper has been found dead and that: “Down here they say the lighthouse is haunted. And what’s more, blokes go mad and kill themselves.” Higgins is undeterred and takes up his new post. Aided by a female detective from Scotland Yard and a naval officer, the trio discover that the supposedly supernatural apparitions are actually a gang of ship wrecking criminals…
“It’s true that the film was interesting less for its slim plot – which, though entertaining enough, could almost pass for an episode of Scooby Doo – than for its effective use of location and atmosphere. Particularly impressive are the night sequences of the lighthouse and bay, and an evocative opening sequence which suggested that Powell had been paying attention to the Universal horror films of the period (e.g. Dracula, US, 1931; Frankenstein, US, 1933). The effective editing – notably in the sequence in which a ship narrowly escapes disaster on the rocks – also hints at greatness to come…” Mark Duguid, BFI Screenonline
“Directed with a sure and steady hand by Michael Powell, The Phantom Light is infinitely superior to the quota-quickie melodramas then flooding the British film market.” Hal Erickson, Allmovie.com
“Of all the films he made in this period, this has the most location work, and is the one that most clearly benefits from it. It successfully disguises the stage origins of the film, but it is used by Powell to create a number of interesting effects. Most of them stem from the presumed haunting of the lighthouse, but are linked to a general air of the unreal and supernatural that is present from the very beginning, when the train emerges from a tunnel into what seems to be a highly unreal atmosphere.” Megan Abbott, Tipping My Fedora
“A creaky stage play is transformed by Powell into a cheap but splendidly atmospheric comedy thriller.” Time Out
“This Wales is another world, where the locals speak either an impenetrable language of their own, or English in the harsh cadences of some ancient epic poetry; where the talk still runs to fairies and spectral presences; where the residents battle the natural elements that yield their livelihood.” David Kehr, The New York Times
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