Lionel Jeffries' The Amazing Mr. Blunden: The Family Friendly Ghost Story You May Have Missed

Jamie and Lucy wonder if their new home is haunted in The Amazing Mr. Blunden. Photo: Hemdale Film Corporation.

Happen upon The Amazing Mr. Blunden, a 1972 family-friendly mystery movie/ghost story directed by Lionel Jeffries (The Railway Children), and one is bound to think they have discovered a new film adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. And why not? After a family of four (a mother and three children) vacate their recently sold middle class London flat, we next cut to a severe looking man walking the darkened streets of Camden Town wearing a long overcoat. He walks among the local vendors, avoiding the sludge in the streets, until he stops at a sub-level dwelling in a noticeably poorer part of town where the family now lives. As he stops to knock, two girls sing a creepy chant:

"Wall-flowers, wall-flowers
Climbing up so high,
All they little children
They are going to die"

Charming eh? The man is Mr. Blunden (Laurence Naismith; Village of the Damned). And what he wants with Mrs. Allen and her children will all soon be revealed. While The Amazing Mr. Blunden indeed shares many traits and themes with The Christmas Carol, this atmospheric, creepy, yet family-friendly, ghost story/historical mystery has a special place in my movie-watching heritage. Although I first watched it as a child, this rarely found hidden gem is now available to Amazon Prime members and holds up as a story that can be enjoyed by all ages.

Mr. Blunden, a partner in a firm of solicitors, visits the recently widowed Mrs. Allen (Dorothy Alison; "A Town Like Alice") to inquire if she would be interested in a job as caretaker of Langley Park, a ruined, but once grand, country mansion. Indeed, Mrs. Allen has fallen on hard times and has been forced to move to a humbler abode due to the family's loss of income. Once Mrs. Allen leaves the room to tend to her baby, Mr. Blunden begins asking the two eldest children, Lucy (Lynne Frederick; Nicholas and Alexandra) and Jamie (Garry Miller), an odd series of questions. Do they believe in ghosts? What would they do if they saw a ghost? Finally, he asks if they will help him if given an opportunity, although he can't tell them what they need to do to help. The children clearly think this is odd, but like all well-raised, strapping young English children, they assure Mr. Blunden they would be willing to give it the old college try, what-ho. Mr. Blunden, satisfied, leaves the house after making them promise to drag their mother to his office tomorrow to complete an official job application. 

The next morning, when the family arrives at the office of Blunden, Blunden, Claverton, and ... (oh what was his name?), the solicitors seem confused as to how Mrs. Allen learned of the job, as it hasn't been posted yet. Nonetheless, she is hired, and the family moves to Langley Park. Although the house is in a great state of disrepair, and the caretaker's cottage looking quite grim as well, the family decides to make the best of the situation. Local rumors indicate the house is haunted, and despite the confidence they expressed to Mr. Blunden, the children feel no small level of anxiety that they may meet a ghost. And then, one day, they do see a ghost, only it's not what they expected. The two ghosts are children who look quite nice. They aren't quite dead yet. And they, like Mr. Blunden, ask for Lucy and Jamie's help. 

Sara (left) shows Lucy and Jamie (right) how to make the potion in The Amazing Mr. Blunden: Photo: Hemdale Film Corporation.

At this point, the perfectly realistic story and setup changes into something much more fantastical than previously imagined. Our adventures with Mr. Blunden, Lucy and Jamie, and these new "ghosts," Sara and Georgie, will involve time travel, magic potions, sentient libraries, attempted murder by poison, attempted insurance fraud, invisibility, romance, and hidden heritage. Although the rules of magic and logic don't quite align when charted out on paper, children with imagination will easily get too caught up in the story to care. The story has a timeless feel of a great classic from Masterpiece Theater yet the themes of redemption and correcting the wrongs of the past are just as relevant today. Like all great movies for children, viewers will find themselves wishing they could have this adventure along with the characters. 

Here are just some of the reasons this movie is so good:
  • Atmospheric and fantastical world-building, with a fairy tale feel: Although no actual magic occurs, the rules of logic don't necessarily apply either. Sara and Georgie time travel to the present, using a special potion of herbs found in a book. Lucy and Jamie then use the same brew to travel to the past. Although the tone is creepy and slightly scary, the dominate feeling remains wide-eyed wonder. Close scrutiny of the plot elements unveils multiple loopholes, yet it all seems perfectly plausible because we want to see what happens next. 
  • Amazing dialogue. Some lines might cause cringe, but the soft, unhurried cadences of the lines spoken by the children keep it all from falling apart. 
    • Lucy: We would help if we could, wouldn't we Jamie? [With Lucy looking into the depths of Mr. Blunden's eyes.]
    • Sara: Promise you'll not fail us!
    • Sara: The library is pleased, Georgie.
    • Georgie: I'm not giving it to her because I think it is poison, I'm only making sure it isn't! Why are you pulling a funny face? It's either Mrs. Wickens or her cat, and that cat never did anyone any harm!
    • Lucy: You're too late, Mr. Blunden. You're always too late!
  • Music by Elmer Bernstein. Bernstein, famous for creating scores from films such as The Ten Commandments, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Escape, Ghostbusters, Cape Fear, and much more, created the music for The Amazing Mr. Blunden. The movie has haunting themes, as well as wonderful musical cues.  
  • The theme of redemption for past mistakes rings true and carries weight. 
  • The way it all ties up nicely as a children's story should. 
Mr. Blunden finally has his chance to repent for the past in The Amazing Mr. Blunden. Photo: Hemdale Film Corporation.

For a long time this movie could not be viewed. Rumor has it that in the past the BBC broadcasted the movie regularly on holidays. My family owned a VHS copy which seems to have been lost. Amazon used to sell VHS editions, but they only worked in Region 2 (UK) players. So the only hope for watching the movie was to find bootlegged copies on YouTube. Now, blessedly, Amazon Prime subscribers can watch it on Prime Video, although whoever uploaded the movie failed to include some of the best parts of the movie. Still, it's nice to be able to watch it without breaks. 

In short, The Amazing Mr. Blunden is classic children's cinema that has been forgotten. It's family-friendly, creepy as all get out, and will surely appeal to imaginative children.