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» » Return to Glennascaul (1953)

Short summary

SPOILER: Orson Welles, taking a break from the filming of The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice (1951), is driving in the Irish countryside one night when he offers a ride to a man with car trouble. The man relates a strange event that happened to him at the same location. Two women flagged down his car one evening, asking for a ride back to their manor. They invited him in for a drink, and after leaving, he went back for his cigarette case. He found the manor deserted and decayed. In Dublin, a real estate broker told him the mother and daughter had died years ago. Welles, sufficiently spooked, drops the man off at his home, and speeds on by when two other stranded women wave for a ride.

The film was given to RCA Recording Studios in Hammersmith to complete post-production. They engaged Joseph Sterling to edit it. When the film arrived, it had been very roughly assembled by someone not used to cutting room procedure: trims tightly wound up, no identification, etc. Originally, the film's commentary was given by Michael Laurence, who played Sean Merriman. When editing was completed, Hilton Edwards ran the film for Orson Welles. He then decided that he should re-do the commentary.

"Glennascaul" is Irish for "Glen of the Shadows."

User reviews


  • comment
    • Author: Breder
    Interesting little short subject has Welles playing himself during a break from his tortuous shooting of "Othello". While driving thru Dublin on a stormy night, Welles offers a lift to a man with car trouble, who then recounts to him a supernatural experiance he'd had on the same stretch of road years ago.

    A very measured short subject {seasoned quite well by the always welcome timbre of Welles' narration} keeps you interested thru the climax of the passenger's flashback which is genuinely chilling.

    Listen quickly for Welles inside joke on the trouble with distributors...mechanical and otherwise.
  • comment
    • Author: Buzatus
    Driving to Dublin late one night, Orson Welles stops to pick-up a stranded motorist. The man proceeds to tell Welles about what happened to him late one evening at that very spot in the road, when he was flagged down by two women. As his tale continues, it wraps back to enfold Welles and the viewer in its skein of mystery - inviting us all to RETURN TO GLENNASCAUL...

    In 1951, during a hiatus in the production of his OTHELLO, two of the actors in the Shakespearean film asked Welles, their old friend, to appear in a short film they were producing. They were Hilton Edwards & Micheál Mac Liammóir, the founders of the famed Dublin Gate Theatre. They thought Welles would be the perfect choice to tell their little ghost tale. They were right - his magnificent voice still worked its magic as it had in radio's heyday. Others in the cast, all excellent, were Michael Laurence (also on leave from OTHELLO), Shelah Richards & Helena Hughes.

    This Irish two-reeler is a superb example of what can be done in a very short amount of screen time. Beautifully crafted, not a frame of film or line of dialogue is wasted. Intriguing & entertaining, it's a shame this little gem is so obscure today.
  • comment
    • Author: Swordsong
    This short little ghost story feels just like that, a story someone might tell during a long drive or over a campfire. The details are obscure enough to make you wonder and the reaction of Orson Welles to the story told him here is priceless to witness. A short little film which manages to tell an haunting story in a very short amount of time.
  • comment
    • Author: Thomeena
    During a break in the filming of 'The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice (1952),' Orson Welles recounts a creepy "tall tale" allegedly told to him by a broken-down motorist to whom he offered a ride. Welles plays himself in the film, acting not only as the narrator, but more involvedly as the resident storyteller. One can imagine that it was this role, in addition to his obvious talents on radio, that inspired 'The Fountain of Youth (1958)' – a wonderful half-hour television pilot for "The Orson Welles Show," which boasted a concept not dissimilar to "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," but with Welles taking a more active presence in each episode's production (inconceivably, the show was immediately rejected). One also suspects the film's influence on the BBC's "Ghost Story for Christmas" series, the most impressive of examples of which are 'A Warning to the Curious (1972)' and 'The Signalman (1976)' {adapted from stories by M.R. James and Charles Dickens, respectively}.

    The best kind of ghost stories, I think, that those told through an intermediary – it keeps them grounded in reality, which paradoxically makes them all the more creepy. The viewer's natural inclination is to trust the narrator's word, but in this case the narrator must rely on the word of the motorist, Sean Merriman (Michael Laurence), who could be making the whole story up… or, he could be completely sincere. It's that uncertainty that makes 'Return to Glennascaul (1951)' a perfectly chilling ghost tale, and a fine companion for a cold, lonely winter's night. We must not, of course, underestimate the emotional resonance of Welles' narrating voice, which contributes just as much atmosphere as Georg Fleischmann's hazy photography. The film was nominated for an Oscar in 1954, but lost out to 'Bear Country (1953),' one of Walt Disney's two-reeler nature documentaries. In any case, think about 'Return to Glennascaul' next time you decide to pick up two female hitch-hikers – I, for one, will be following Orson's example!
  • comment
    • Author: Ustamya
    This short, nominated for an Academy Award, was adapted from a ghost story Welles once heard and was filmed during a financially-enforced sabbatical during the filming of Othello. It is remarkably moody and quite creepily atmospheric. It is essentially a finger-exercise for Welles, but it is a comment on Welles (and, sadly, on other directors) that his finger-exercises are more interesting and worthwhile than some director's magnum opus. Glad to see it's available. Recommended.
  • comment
    • Author: Kelerius
    This great film is now available as part of the restored version of Othelo DVD.

    Glennascaul means "Glen of the shadows" or "Glen of the ghosts". The true significance will become clear as you watch.

    Orson Wells appears in the film at the start and also narrates it. His narration is first class - few actors have ever shown a similar ability to place so much into a few inflections of the voice.

    I won't say anything about the plot as I do not want to spoil anything. It is a truly great example of what can be done with not a lot of money and a short viewing time.

    Best watched late at night in a dark room.
  • comment
    • Author: Cashoutmaster
    Interesting short narrated by Orson Welles about a ghost story "told in Dublin" (as the film says). Only about a half hour long, it's not really scary and the acting is uneven (to say the least), but it's beautifully shot. Some of the scenes in it were breathtaking and even though I knew the ending, I was interested. A most interesting little movie. Good thing it's available on video. Worth seeing on Halloween night.
  • comment
    • Author: Groll
    This fine little film might be entirely unremembered were it not for the appearance of Orson Welles in the movie's frame and as the narrator throughout. The story is quite predictable to anyone who has ever heard a ghost story told aloud, but manages to deliver a chill anyway. Oddly, the least effective part of the script is that given over to Welles narration. The photography, however, is so good throughout as to approach perfection. The performances are all competent, though Welles can be faulted for chewing the scenery in the old Mercury Theatre manner.
  • comment
    • Author: Chuynopana
    Produced by the Dublin Gate Theatre's founders Hilton Edwards and Micheál MacLiammóir, this is a great, spooky short film set and filmed in the "haunted land of Ireland." Directed by Edwards (who is mentioned by name in the film), it features Orson Welles as himself, a role to which he was particularly suited. Taking a break from filming "Othello", he drives into the Irish countryside and picks up a hitchhiker named Sean Merriman, who tells Welles that, the previous year, he picked up two women, a mother and daughter, at the same spot. After he drove them home, Merriman entered their lovely, perfectly furnished house Glennascaul (which means "Glen of the Shadows" in Irish) for tea. Almost immediately after leaving, he realised that he left his cigarette case behind him and found that the house had suddenly been abandoned and fallen into a state of severe decay.

    Welles' on screen role is little more than a cameo but he lends his beautiful voice to the proceedings as the narrator, the premise being that the actor and director is relating the story that Merriman told him to the audience. Michael Laurence - who, like Welles, Edwards and MacLiammóir, appeared in "Othello" - is very good in the role of Merriman while Shelah Richards is suitably imperious as Mrs. Campbell, the older of the two strange women. Considering that I don't typically watch Irish films or TV series (bar current affairs shows and the like), it is a little strange to see places that I know very well such as College Green in Dublin in a film.

    Welles' connection to Edwards and MacLiammóir is an interesting one as they gave him his first professional acting job at the Gate in 1931 when he told them that he was a Broadway star. They didn't believe him but they were impressed by his bravado. He never forgot it and remained friends with them for the rest of their lives. Edwards and MacLiammóir, two of the most important names in the history of Irish theatre, were not only partners in the professional sense but in the personal sense as well. It was a very open secret that they were gay but no one really passed any remarks on them in spite of the fact that homosexuality was unfortunately still a criminal offence in Ireland until 1993, long after they had both died. They were actually very well liked by almost everyone.
  • comment
    • Author: Dondallon
    A man tells the tale of another man telling his tale of the rainy night he picked up a mother and daughter in need of a lift, who turned out not to be what they seemed.

    Simple ghost short that hardly tickles the palate, coming across as the prelude to something meatier. The merit is in the lighting and framing of the shots, and the good performances, especially of the mother.

    The framing device within a framing device - well, neither has much of a point - except the jokey nod and a wink presence of Wells. One visual joke with a giant shadow in the playhouse. And so much smoking you wonder how the actors didn't cough their way through the screenplay.
  • comment
    • Author: Shomeshet
    Travelling through Dublin by car, Orson Welles (playing himself) gives a lift to a stranded man, who recounts a similar but strange occurrence of his own. Not particularly gripping as a ghost story; however, the detail is quite nice…and Mr. Welles' genial presence entirely welcome. Even so, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences thought it enough of a novelty at the time to deem it worthy of an Oscar nomination in the "Best Two-Reel Short Subject" category in 1953 – one that was eventually won by an obscure Walt Disney 'True-Life Adventure' documentary, BEAR COUNTRY! What is interesting to modern audiences in general and Welles scholars in particular is that the short under review was literally shot when the great man was taking a break from the filming of OTHELLO (1952) – an event which is captured in its very opening scenes! In fact, it was co-produced by Micheal MacLiammoir and writer/director Edwards who, were not only portraying Iago and Brabantio in Welles' exceptional filming of Shakespeare's tragedy, but had been Welles' theatrical cohorts in the late 1930s when he was just starting out. The restored version of the short – retitled ORSON WELLES' GHOST STORY – was overseen by genre producer Richard Gordon and introduced by the ubiquitous Peter Bogdanovich.
  • comment
    • Author: MOQ
    Return to Glennascaul (1953)

    ** 1/2 (out of 4)

    Orson Welles is on a break from filming OTHELLO and driving through the Dublin countryside. He picks up a man (Michael Laurence) who then tells him about a strange experience he had on the road the previous year. The man tells Welles about a couple women he picked up and the strange aftermath.

    RETURN TO GLENNASCAUL isn't the most successful two-reeler ever made but somehow it ended up getting an Oscar-nomination. That's rather strange considering the film really isn't all that great plus the fact that Welles himself was often overlooked. The film is basically a ghost story but there's just nothing overly original about the story and the twist is certainly seen a mile ahead of when it actually happens. There's a little bit of an atmosphere but the short is really lacking any creepiness. The film is certainly watchable since it lasts under thirty-minutes but there's no question that it really isn't anything special. The most interesting thing about it is Welles and how there are a few jokes aimed at some of his various issues with the OTHELLO production.
  • comment
    • Author: Glei
    I watched "Return To Glennascaul" as a bonus feature on the "Best Of British Collection" DVD of "Three Cases Of Murder". Both the plot synopsis on the cover and Peter Bogdanovich's brief introduction give away the "secret" of this being a tale about ghosts, and if you know that, there is not much more to discover. We never learn why Michael Laurence's character can see, hear and touch the two ghostly women, and the ghosts themselves seem very friendly and just in need of some company, so I wouldn't really classify this as a "horror" story, either. I'm glad it has been preserved for its historical and curiosity value (mainly due to Orson Welles' involvement), but it's all rather pointless. ** out of 4.
  • comment
    • Author: Umsida
    "Return to Glennascaul" is an Irish 23-minute live action short film from 1953, so this one has its 65th anniversary this year and while it was written and directed by Hilton edwards, the most known name in here is of course Orson Welles, who plays himself, just a minor character though, but also shows up as the narrator in this little horror movie. It is the story of a man who meets a mother and daughter, but finds out that these two died a long time ago. That's the essence of this black-and-white film basically. I personally think it wasn't a bad watch, but the story really could have been fit intoo half the runtime. At 12 minutes, it might have been a better and more essential watch in my opinion. So as a consequence I'd only recommend it to the biggest Welles fans and of course you can watch it quickly. Rest of the cast are not too known, even if some of them were fairly prolific back in the day. Oh yeah, this one was nominated for an Oscar, but lost to Disney's take on bears. In my opinion, the nomination may have been a bit too much already. Watch something else instead.
  • comment
    • Author: Realistic
    This is the most elementary sort of traditional ghost story, not even enlivened to any great extent by the use of Irish locations. If the great M.R. James had ever come up with a tale this thin -- doesn't James in fact have a story called "A Thin Ghost"? -- he wouldn't have bothered to have it published.

    Orson Welles appears in the limp endpieces as a favour to a brace of old friends, this film's producers. His presence and the one movie industry in-joke would have earned this will-o'-the-wisp its Oscar nomination. This is yet more proof, if any more were needed, that the Academy Awards have never been any guarantee of merit.
  • Complete credited cast:
    Michael Laurence Michael Laurence - Sean Merriman
    Shelah Richards Shelah Richards - Mrs. Campbell
    Helena Hughes Helena Hughes - Lucy Campbell
    John Dunne John Dunne - Daly
    Isobel Couser Isobel Couser - The Short Woman
    Ann Clery Ann Clery - The Tall Woman
    Orson Welles Orson Welles - Narrator / Orson Welles
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