Thursday, April 29, 2010


Lionel Barrymore is Peter Grimm, an old man who, if not quite cantankerous, is very opinionated and actively meddles in the lives of his relatives, who nevertheless like and respect him. He is the owner of a nursery and seed business which he wants to pass down to his nephew Fred; he also wants his ward Kitty (Helen Mack) to marry Fred, not noticing two important things: 1) Fred is a jerk; 2) Kitty is in love with Grimm's loyal secretary James (James Bush). Two other important members of Grimm's circle are young William (George Breakston), the sickly grandson of Grimm's cook, and Grimm's doctor (Edward Ellis), who keeps holding séances even though they never work out. Still, Grimm and the doc make a deal that the first one to die will try to contact the other from the other side. One day, just after Kitty has promised Grimm that she'll marry Fred, Grimm drops dead and does, in fact, return to his family, albeit as a ghost that none of them can see or hear. He sees that Kitty loves James, and that Fred is about to close a deal to sell Grimm's business to a rival, so he sets out not only to contact the doc, but also to straighten everything else out somehow.

The appeal to the viewer of this gentle afterlife fantasy may depend on his or her tolerance for Lionel Barrymore. Generally, I like him, especially in sly granddad roles like this, YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU, and ON BORROWED TIME (which is similar to this film, especially toward the end), though he does have a tendency toward taking center stage and not giving it up. Here, in an RKO B-film, he's surrounded by actors who, for the most part, just give up and let Barrymore reign supreme. Ellis is good as is the 15-year-old Breakston who almost gets to steal the final scene from Barrymore. When Barrymore comes back as a ghost, his onscreen image is blurred (see picture above); an interesting effect, though one that is a bit creepy at times since we can't see his facial features. Donald Meek and Ethel Griffies are effective in smaller supporting roles. [TCM]

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