Quick Review: The Ghost That Never Returns (1930)

Director: Abram Room

Writers: Henri Barbusse(novel), Valentin Turkin

Stars: Boris Ferdinandov, A. Filippov, Karl Gurnyak

RATING: 2.5 Stars

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Under the watchful gaze of his parole officer, who has orders to kill him whether he makes an attempt to escape or not, Real takes the train home to his village, where plans are being hatched to overthrow the oppressive regime of the oil company which holds sway in the region. – From IMDB

I studied prisons and their pros and cons as part of my undergraduate degree, so it’s safe to say I find any films set in or about prison life incredibly interesting. And while the subject matter and the plot were vaguely interesting, the version of the film I was able to find online, with English intertitles had such bad video quality, that it was incredibly hard to see what was actually going on. But I won’t hold that against the film, it;s almost 100 years old, some degradation is bound to happen.

The scenes early on in the film, showing the panopticon style prison and the implied horrendous conditions the prisoners have to endure is a really well filmed was my personal favourite part of the film. The dark lighting, harsh shadows and hollowed out faces of the prisoners really set the mood for the prison. The almost goblin like appearance of the prison warden sets him up as a nefarious villain immediately, even before he mentions that the prisoner is going to be killed while on day release, whether he tries to escape or not. They just want to rid themselves of a troublemaker. I think this has a lot to say about how people view prisons. That it is better to get rid of the problematic people in society, then try and deal with them, and the problems that lead to their errant behaviour. But I could write on that topic for a while, so I will get back to the point.

Things get weirdly bizarre once Real leaves the prison and gets on the train. Events keep getting stranger and stranger, bad luck keeps building and building. The countdown to seven o’clock, when Real is supposed to be back in the prison, is great at building a sense of suspense. You know what the officer has been directed to do, that Real is supposed to be shot, but the wait is agonising.

The ending is incredibly abrupt, and after the suspense and atmosphere built up during the rest of the film, it feels like a bit of a let down. I hate hurried endings, and seeing as this film takes it’s time setting things up, it seems like a waste to cut it so short. It’s also amazing this film got made in the Stalinist era, with the main character a celebrated workman’s hero. Praising and highlighting the workers right to strike. Sure it shows dire consequences to those who do, but the hero ultimately wins. Risky in a time when that was greatly frowned upon.

This film is available to find online quite easily if you want to check it out for yourself. I watched this version ->

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