Castle in the Air (1952) poster

Castle in the Air (1952)


UK. 1952.


Director – Henry Cass, Screenplay – Edward Dryhusrt & Alan Melville, Based on a Play by Alan Melville, Producer – Edward Dryhurst, Photography (b&w) – Erwin Hillier, Music – Francis Chagrin, Art Direction – Robert Jones. Production Company – Hallmark Productions.


David Tomlinson (The Earl of Locharne), Helen Cherry (Boss Trent), Margaret Rutherford (Veronica Nicholson), Barbara Kelly (Imelda Clodfelter Dunne), Brian Oulton (Phillips), A.E. Matthews (Blair), Patricia Dainton (Ermyntrude), Ewan Roberts (Menzies)


In Scotland, the current Earl of Locharne tries to keep the family castle going even though it is falling into disrepair. He has turned the castle into a guesthouse, currently peopled with an assortment of eccentrics. It is also inhabited by Ermyntrude, the family ghost. He then receives a visit from Phillips, an official from the Coal Board who wants to requisition the castle as a holiday retreat for workers and their families. Around the same time, the earl receives a visit from Mrs Clodfelter Dunne, a wealthy American widow who wants to buy the castle.

Castle in the Air is what gets called a ‘quota quickie’ in British film history – a film made for local consumption to satisfy a government mandate back in the day rquiring a certain percentage of local product in theatres. Most of these films were cheaply made and shot in black-and-white. The film here is based on a play Castle in the Air (1949) by Alan Melville, a playwright, novelist and musicals writer who enjoyed some success during this era. The play had enjoyed a popular run in London’s West End.

Castle in the Air is an amiable knockabout comedy. Much of the film stays with the stage origins of the story and is just various characters intersecting in and around the castle and environs – from the tight-ass official come to see about requisitioning the property; to Margaret Rutherford’s eccentric genealogist who believes David Tomlinson is the rightful King of England; and Barbara Kelly as the American widow breezing in wanting to buy up the castle. The film bounces around their interactions with a certain energy. There is an undeniable amusement in particular to the poaching scenes. That said, it does look very obviously setbound at times.

David Tomlinson was later known for his work for Disney with films like Mary Poppins (1964), The Love Bug (1969) and Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971). The scene-stealer of the show is that living work of art Margaret Rutherford who charges through the film in a full flight of eccentricity.

The fantasy element is fairly light – merely a ghost that haunts the castle and makes occasional appearances. The film seems to have had an undeniable influence on the subsequent Neil Jordan film High Spirits (1988).

Director Henry Cass (1903-89) maintained a career turning out a series of forgettable quota quickies. In genre material, he did go on to make the quite good early Anglo-horror film Blood of the Vampire (1958) and the cheap The Hand (1960).

Full film available here

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