Sunday, 31 October 2010

An Irish ghost story as told by Orson Welles

Return to Glennascaul is a wonderful 2-reel short from 1951, written and directed by Hilton Edwards of the famous Gate Theatre in Dublin. The film is best remembered for the participation of Orson Welles who became involved with the project during some downtime on the troubled production of Othello (which starred Gate co-founder Micheál Mac Liammóir), and was asked to narrate the film as well as appear in the opening and closing sequences of the film.

In the first scene of the film, Welles is seen taking time away from the Mercury production of Othello to travel to Dublin to see Edwards. On the way, Welles picks up a man whose car has broken down, and passing the time, the man tells Welles a story about two strange women he once gave a lift to. Invited in for a night cap at the stately home of the women, the man leaves a cigarette case behind, but moments later when he returns to the house to retrieve the case, the grounds appear over grown with weeds, the house locked up and in a state of disrepair and seemingly abandoned for years...

A short story straight from the haunted land of Ireland as Welles puts it in opening narration, Return to Glennascaul is an atmospheric little film, with beautiful lighting, (in a style reminiscent of Welles' own films) and an evocative harp music score. It's quite a creepy film too - there's a wonderful sequence where the man walks through the empty house and becomes frightened when he hears ghostly whispering all around him. There's some nice touches of humour too, at one point Welles reacting to his passenger's car trouble, replies "I've had trouble with my distributor too", and a scene where a suitably spooked Welles drives off at speed past two women looking for a lift!

The film has had quite an interesting history since its initial release. After a few screenings in 1951, the film vanished and was largely forgotten about, only to be rescued from obscurity when horror movie producer Richard Gordon (Tower of Evil, Inseminoid) found the film in the archives of Irish television broadcaster RTE. The film was cleaned up by the BFI and Gordon commissioned Peter Bogdanovich to film an introduction to accompany the film. In 1992 the film was re-released in a program entitled A Tribute To Orson Welles

Return to Glennascaul can be found on UK label Second Sight's DVD of Othello, as the complete A Tribute To Orson Welles program. The image quality is very good for an obscure title of this vintage while the dialogue is a bit hissy at times, it's perfectly fine. The DVD is region free.


  1. What a find! Richard Gordon is a pretty interesting guy too - and his brother Alex had this wonderful rambling column in Fangoria magazine in the 80's. I'd like to see this short - it sounds like it would be a nice bit to spot in to my Horrorfest Weekend in a couple of weeks...

  2. Craig, I'll check out the Alex Gordon column in Fango - I have a complete 80's run of the magazine (digitized only I say with much sadness!)... Last year I caught Welles' The Hearts of Age from 1934, as part of a program of American Experimental Cinema, and the film is quite strage and creepy in places - well worth seeing...