The tale it tells will be familiar to anyone who has ever sat around a campfire telling ghost stories at night but it’s given an edgy ambiance thanks to the stellar direction and Welles’ imposing narration. It begins with Welles driving down a dark road in the Irish countryside where he spots a man named Sean Merriman (Michael Laurence) struggling to get his car started. Welles offers him a lift into Dublin and on the way there that man tells Welles a strange and fascinating tale about two women who he had offered a ride to years earlier. The women turn out to be a mother and daughter and they ask Merriman to take them to their Dublin home, which happens to be a lovely estate called Glennascaul. While Merriman’s there he drinks some whiskey and exchanges stories with the two ladies. Before dawn, he decides to leave but promises to come again soon. On his drive home, he suddenly realizes that he’s forgotten his cigarette case so he quickly decides to go back for it but when he returns to Glennascaul the place is merely a shadow of its former self. The grand old house is in ruins and the rusty gate and overgrown garden suggest that no one has lived there for decades.

A few things that make RETURN TO GLENNASCAUL essential viewing are the impressive location shots of Dublin and the talented Irish cast that brings the story to life. Michael Laurence (FOR THEM THAT TRESPASS, OTHELLOWILLIAMSBURG: THE STORY OF A PATRIOT, Etc.) stars in the film and he does a good job of bringing a level of gravitas and unspoken yearning to the proceedings. I also appreciate Helena Hughes’ portrayal of the spectral Lucy who captures Sean Merriman’s heart with her mournful glances. And of course the cinematography by George Fleischmann is also noteworthy but as I mentioned before, the film appears to have Welles’ fingerprints all over it.

Orson Welles narrated a similar radio drama in 1941 during his time with The Mercury Theater. The play was called The Hitchhiker and it was written specifically for Welles by screenwriter Lucille Fletcher (wife of composer Bernard Herrmann). It tells the story of a ghostly hitchhiker who follows an unsuspecting driver on a road trip across the country. The Hitchhiker was also adapted for television by Rod Serling and it became one of the most memorable episodes of The Twilight ZoneRETURN TO GLENNASCAUL has its own twists and turns as well as a distinct and ghostly Gaelic atmosphere but it’s highly likely that the film was at least partially inspired by Welles’ performance in that original Mercury Theater play.

Horror fans have complained that unlike The HitchhikerRETURN TO GLENNASCAUL takes a lighthearted turn at the end. But this was typical of many early thrillers and I don’t find its mild humor distracting. What remains with me after viewing the film multiple times is the eerie ambiance, whispering voices and dramatic framing that suggests a supernatural take on lost love, regrets, human corrosion and the deterioration of time and place that Welles explored beautifully in THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS and CITIZEN KANE. Watching RETURN TO GLENNASCAUL makes me wish that Welles had devoted more attention to the paranormal and adapted one of Sheridan Le Fanu or Charlotte Riddell’s ghost stories for the screen.

RETURN TO GLENNASCAUL is currently available to watch on Youtube. If you haven’t had the opportunity to view this enchanting Irish ghost story I highly recommend giving it a look. It’s the perfect evening viewing for ghost lovers or anyone celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.

by Kimberly Lindbergs, originally written for Turner Classic Movies and published on TCM.com, March 17, 2011