The Ghost Breakers (1940)
Director: George Marshall
Writer: Walter DeLeon; based on The Ghost Breaker (1909 play) by Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard
Cinematographer: Charles Lang
Producer: Arthur Hornblow Jr.
by Jon Cvack
I’m not too familiar with Bob Hope, other than seeing The Cat and the Canary (1939) a few years ago. In this film, he’s a disillusioned true crime radio DJ Larry Lawrence as your prototypical mile a minute wise-cracking and confident alpha male. His partner is the black man Alex (Willie Best) who is one of the few black actors I’ve seen in a supporting role from the period; though far from spared a bunch of racist innuendo.
During the broadcast, we cut to a hotel where the beautiful Mary Carter ((Paulette Goddard) is listening in on the broadcast when she’s approached by the creepy Mr. Parada (Paul Lukas) who explains that she’s inherited a Cuban mansion called the Castilla Maldito and must come down immediately.
After Larry reveals some dirt on a local crime boss Frenchy Duval (Paul Fix), Frenchy invites Larry over to the same hotel. Suspecting murder, Larry brings a gun and upon arriving, kills one of Frency’s henchman. He then sneaks into Mary’s room to hide out and learns about her going to the Cuban Mansion. Knowing he has to get out, he decides to sneak onto the ship by hiding in some luggage in order to hide from the cops.
We then get to an ocean liner where Alex has arranged Larry with a room. Larry gets out of the trunk, hardly able to walk, until he learns that the gun he used didn’t match the bullet found on the victim. He then finds Mary and implores her to let him join her to the mansion.
With a running time of only 84 minutes, this sequence of events takes us up to two thirds of the entire film and only at the ~55 minute mark do we finally get to the mansion where see some zombies, get into the mansion where there are spirits wandering around with horrible effects, and Mary soon realizes she’s a descendant of one of the prior heirs; discovering a painting with an uncanny resemblance between the two women.
As mentioned in my thoughts on The Undying Monster (1942), the film was designed as part Universal horror film and part Sherlock Holmes. If The Ghost Breakers struck a similar balance, it could have worked, but with such a short running time, its gangster film/love story/slapstick/comedic horror super hybrid prevented any of the elements from working. By the time we got to the haunted mansion, I had grown so bored with the story that the horrors and gags failed to do much of anything. I didn’t know why they’d delay the part of the film that could’ve worked best. It might be scary movie month bias, but this film is better for a casual viewing throughout the year than attempting to find a great classical horror movie - comedy or not. Bob Hope is also kind of an asshole throughout the thing; cocky to the point of being insufferable.
BELOW: Guess he Bob was also a Republican
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