Although the title suggests otherwise, The Ghost Ship is not a supernatural thriller. It is, however, a very effective suspense picture.
Russell Wade (in a sturdy lead performance) is a new officer. On his first ship out, he begins to suspect the captain–Richard Dix, who steadily gets creepier–is a little off his rocker. Of course, almost everything about the ship is somewhat strange, leaving Wade in a bit of a pickle.
The film moves along at a brisk pace–director Robson keeps the scenes short, which makes it feel more substantial than its seventy minutes. Only towards the end does Robson compress too much, likely due to the low budget.
Ghost Ship gets better as it moves along, mostly because the first third is so narratively disjointed. Wade’s undoubtedly the protagonist, but a mute sailor (Skelton Knaggs) narrates the events. The eerie narration is for tone, but Ghost Ship doesn’t need it. The dark ship–Nicholas Musuraca lights the picture beautifully–is never safe, even during the day scenes.
Donald Henderson Clarke’s screenplay recovers in the second act (only to falter for the finish). But Ghost Ship is always unnerving, thanks to Robson’s sure direction and the acting.
There are some strong supporting turns from Dewey Robinson, Edmund Glover and Edith Barrett. Some of the crew members are a little weak, but they’re passable.
John Lockert’s editing is poor. Nice score from Roy Webb.
Ghost Ship has its problems–particularly that finish–but it’s an good, uncanny trip.
Directed by Mark Robson; screenplay by Donald Henderson Clarke, based on a story by Leo Mittler; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by John Lockert; music by Roy Webb; produced by Val Lewton; released by RKO Radio Pictures.
Starring Russell Wade (3rd Officer Tom Merriam), Richard Dix (Capt. Will Stone), Edmund Glover (Sparks, the Radioman), Dewey Robinson (Boats), Ben Bard (First Officer Bowns), Skelton Knaggs (Finn, the Mute) and Edith Barrett (Ellen Roberts).