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Can Peter Ustinov act in a bad film? Maybe so, but his performance is almost always amazingly enjoyable! Is this true of the 1968 Disney film, Blackbeard’s Ghost? Let’s find out!
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
The movie begins one night when Coach Steve Walker, played by Dean Jones, drives into the small town of Godolphin.
Mr. Walker has recently been hired to coach Godolphin College’s track team which has been a bit of a disappointment for decades! He rents a room at Blackbeard’s Inn, an inn run by the Daughters of the Buccaneers, old ladies who are descendants of the legendary pirate, Blackbeard, who once used to roam these parts.
The night of Mr. Walker’s arrival happens to coincide with a bazaar at the inn. You see, the ladies of the inn, led by Ms. Stowecroft, played by Elsa Lanchester, are trying to raise money to keep the inn from being taken by the local gangster, Silky Seymour, played by Joby Baker. Mr. Seymour wants the land to build a casino on and unless the ladies can pay the mortgage off soon, the inn goes to him.
The bazaar features many money-making activities including an auction wherein the townspeople can bid on antiques that used to belong to Blackbeard himself. However, Mr. Seymour has intimidated everyone from bidding. But when Mr. Walker sees what’s going on, he isn’t afraid of Mr. Seymour and is one of the few who bids in the auction.
This earns him the respect and admiration of Professor Jo Anne Baker, played by Suzanne Pleshette. She also works at Godolphin College with her study of focus being child psychology.
After the bazaar has ended and everyone’s gone home, Ms. Stowecroft shows Mr. Walker to his room, the room that used to belong to Blackbeard himself. As he gets accustomed to his new room, he accidentally breaks the bed warmer that he bought at the auction only to reveal that there’s a page hidden inside. The page has a number of witch’s spells written on it and Mr. Walker reads one out loud. As he does that, the ghost of Blackbeard, played by Peter Ustinov, appears before him.
You see, the page belonged to one of Blackbeard’s wives who was a witch. Before she died, she cursed Blackbeard causing him to be forever stuck in a state of limbo between the world of the living and the world of the dead. The spell that Mr. Walker read out loud was a spell that allowed Blackbeard to be seen by whomever incanted the spell, i.e. Mr. Walker.
As you can imagine, Mr. Walker, at first doesn’t believe his eyes and doesn’t get along well with Blackbeard as their personalities are too clashing. He decides to leave the inn and find somewhere else to stay, but Blackbeard follows him as the two of them are now forced to be together. Blackbeard tries to take control of the car while Mr. Walker is driving it, resulting in them causing havoc and eventually crashing! A cop arrives on the spot to arrest Mr. Walker, since he can’t see Blackbeard.
Whilst in jail, Mr. Walker bickers with Blackbeard about the predicament that he’s got him in. They come to the realization that if Blackbeard does one good deed for someone else, then he’ll be able to break free of his curse and be able to leave Mr. Walker and go on to the next realm.
The next day, Mr. Walker is released from the jail and goes to work coaching the college’s track team. The college board is a bit concerned about having heard that Mr. Walker went to jail and was heard “talking with himself”. But, they decide to let Professor Baker spend some time with him to analyze what’s really going on. And as Professor Baker likes Mr. Walker (and vice-versa), she willingly agrees!
The two of them head to a fancy restaurant that night which happens to be owned by Mr. Seymour.
During dinner, Mr. Walker tells Professor Baker all about Blackbeard’s ghost, but of course, she feels it’s just a hallucination of Mr. Walker’s and not real. She tells him that if he ignores “Blackbeard”, then he’ll go away.
Professor Baker also has $900 in her purse that she has to give to the old ladies to pay off their mortgage. It’s not nearly enough though as they need $37,000 by tomorrow night! Blackbeard (who is there at the restaurant too) overhears this and gets an idea. In the back of the restaurant is a gambling den run by Mr. Seymour. Being a ghost, he steals the money from Professor Baker and places a bet that Godolphin College will win the track meet tomorrow. If this happens, they would get back enough money to pay off the mortgage and by doing this “good deed”, maybe Blackbeard will be able to move on.
The next day before the track meet, Professor Baker notices her money stolen and replaced by the receipt slip of the placed bet. She assumes it was Mr. Walker who did this and he was the only one who knew about the money (even though he never left her sight the entire night) and she confronts him about this. He, of course, denies that he had anything to do with it and this causes a strain in their relationship.
He realizes that it was Blackbeard who did this and after confronting him, he realizes that Blackbeard’s idea was to “help” Godolphin College win the track meet by causing the other teams to foul up as nobody can see him. Mr. Walker forbids Blackbeard from doing this cheating to “help” the boys win, but when he sees that it works, he acquiesces. The amusing track meet scene ends with Godolphin College’s team winning and everybody is happy!
Well, everyone that is, except Mr. Seymour. He decides to welsh on the bet resulting in Mr. Walker, Professor Baker, (and Blackbeard, of course), going over to his gambling den to force him to pay up! He tells them that he won’t pay up, but that Professor Baker can try to win back the money at his gambling den. She never gambled before, but due to more cheating from Blackbeard, she manages to win enough!
Mr. Seymour still refuses to pay up, resulting in a comical fight between him and his men and our heroes. It ends well though as Mr. Walker gets the money just in time to the old ladies, securing their inn for them!
He then tells the old ladies and Professor Baker to repeat the words he used to see Blackbeard with after him. They do so and Blackbeard becomes visible to their eyes, shocking everyone, especially Professor Baker! He thanks them all for all that they’ve done and this act of helping the old ladies keep their inn has now allowed him to move on.
And that was Blackbeard’s Ghost! So, is it a great film? Eh…it’s a decent-enough comedy with a simple story, but many scenes go on for way too long including the track meet sequence. Many of the characters are there just for decoration such as the old ladies who should have had a more visible role. And even Mr. Seymour isn’t in the film all that much and when he is, his motives are very weak. The visual effects were also not the best that we’ve seen from Disney, sadly.
But, was Peter Ustinov good, at least? Oh yes, the axiom still holds true that he gave an amazingly enjoyable performance! Dean Jones and Suzanne Pleshette also gave great performances. Overall, this was an average film. If you want to watch the film just for Peter Ustinov, you’ll be satisfied.
(You can click on the image below for an enlarged version of my rating sheet.)
So, the final score for this film is 25/35 = 71.43% (C-) !