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The Phantom Light

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Phantom Light
"The Phantom Light" (1935).jpg
Directed byMichael Powell
Written byRalph Smart (scenario)
J. Jefferson Farjeon (dialogue)
Austin Melford (dialogue)
Based onthe play The Haunted Light
by Evadne Price and Joan Roy Byford
Produced byMichael Balcon (uncredited)
Jerome Jackson (associate producer)
StarringBinnie Hale
Gordon Harker
Distributed byGainsborough Pictures
Release date
  • 5 August 1935 (1935-08-05)
Running time
76 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

The Phantom Light is a 1935 British crime film, a low-budget "quota quickie"[1] directed by Michael Powell and starring Binnie Hale, Gordon Harker, Donald Calthrop, Milton Rosmer and Ian Hunter.[2] The screenplay concerns criminals who try to scare a new chief lighthouse keeper on the Welsh coast, in an attempt to distract him from their scheme.


Sam Higgins alights at the train station for the Welsh village of Tan-Y-Bwlch to take over the North Stack lighthouse, which is believed by the locals to be haunted. There, he meets Alice Bright. She asks him to take her along to the lighthouse, explaining that she belongs to a "psychic society" and wants to investigate the "legend of the phantom lighthouse". He turns her down.

Sam reports to Harbour Master David Owen, who informs him that Jack Davis, Sam's predecessor, "just disappeared", as did the chief lighthouse keeper before him. Owen confirms there was a major shipwreck a year ago, caused, so he believes, by the phantom light. Jim Pearce tries to bribe Sam to take him to the lighthouse; Sam guesses he is a reporter. Alice later overhears Jim ask about hiring a boat, so she tries her charms on him, but again fails.

When Owen, Dr. Carey and others take Sam by boat to the lighthouse, Carey examines Tom Evans, a mentally disturbed member of the resident staff. Evans tries to strangle the doctor, who decides he cannot be moved in his present state, to Sam's discomfort. Just to be safe, Sam ties Tom up. Sam's remaining assistants are Claff Owen (David's brother and Tom's uncle) and Bob Peters.

Then Jim shows up in a boat that is conveniently out of petrol. To Jim's surprise, he has a stowaway: Alice. Sam starts questioning his unwanted guests. Alice now tells him she is "an actress hiding from the police" because two admirers fought over her with knives.

Strange things start occurring. First a fire breaks out near Tom's bed. Then, Sam overhears Jim plotting something with Alice and admitting he is not a reporter. He fears they may be communist saboteurs. Jim has Alice hang a radio aerial out the window of the bunk room, but Tom (whom Claff has untied) sees her do it and sneaks up behind her. He hears Jim returning, so he hastily retreats to his bunk. When Sam shows up, Jim tells him he is a naval officer after wreckers out to sink the Mary Fern for the insurance, most of the shares being held by the locals. Then Alice informs him that she is a detective from Scotland Yard.

Jim starts to transmit a warning to the approaching ship, but Bob and Claff are rendered unconscious, the light is sabotaged, and a decoy light is turned on. After Jim sends Alice to fetch Sam, Tom knocks Jim out and disables his radio. When Alice and Sam return, Tom locks them all in. Jim, however, climbs down the side of the lighthouse and swims to the village to alert the coast guard. Claff wakes up and unlocks the door, allowing Sam to set about repairing the light. They overhear Carey talking to Tom and learn that the doctor is the mastermind. The Mary Fern is saved just in time. Then, trapped at the top of the lighthouse, Carey decides to jump.



The opening scenes were filmed at Tan y Bwlch station on the Festiniog Railway.[3] The station is actually 7.5 miles from the coast. The station mistress was based on Bessie Jones, who lived in the station house with her husband at the time and who was famous for dressing up in authentic Welsh costume. However the character portrayed in the film bore little resemblance to Bessie Jones in real life.


Writing for The Spectator, Graham Greene described the film as "an exciting, simple story" and compared its plot to that of Wilfrid Wilson Gibson's poem Flannan Isle. Specific praise was given to actors Harker (for a "sure-fire Cockney performance") and Calthrop (whom Greene favourably compared to Charles Laughton).[4] In Beacons in the Dark, film historian Robyn Ludwig praises the "suspense-thriller tone... [in which] characters inhabit an isolated, claustrophobic space in which loyalty cannot be assured, and allies and enemies cannot be easily distinguished."[5]

Home media

The film has been released on Region 1 DVD by MPI along with Red Ensign (1934) and The Upturned Glass (1947).

The film has been released on Region 2 DVD by Opening in the "Les films de ma vie" series. The DVD has non-removable French subtitles for the original English soundtrack. A digitally restored version of the film has also been released by Network DVD in Region 2.


  1. ^ Dave Kehr. "Early British Cinema". The New York Times.
  2. ^ The Phantom Light at IMDb
  3. ^
  4. ^ Greene, Graham (12 July 1935). "St Petersburg/Paris Love Song/The Phantom Light". The Spectator. (reprinted in: Taylor, John Russell, ed. (1980). The Pleasure Dome. p. 7. ISBN 0192812866.)
  5. ^ "Beacons in the Dark: Lighthouse Iconography in Wartime British Cinema"

External links

This page was last edited on 2 September 2021, at 03:00
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