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The Ghost Breakers (1940)

While the horror movie in general is meant to bring thrills and chills there is still one ingredient that is always a welcome addition to the genre when done right. That’s a funnyman putting his stamp on a send up. Especially when it’s of the Bob Hope caliber. That’s just what we get when Bob signed on to this Paramount outing from director George Marshall with Paulette Goddard coming along for the fun filled scares that follow.

With a raging storm blacking out New York City on the eve of her departure, Miss Goddard, is set to embark on a journey to Havana where she will lay claim to her inheritance, The Castle of Black Island. While she’s packing, Hope, is prepping to go on the airwaves as a crime fighting reporter billed as, “The man who knows all the rackets and all the racketeers.” This includes Paul Fix who isn’t exactly overjoyed at Bob’s referring to him during the broadcast.

There’s plenty of plot points shoehorned into the first third of this 80 minute comedy that we’ll need to know before all our main players head to the supposedly haunted Black Island. First up is a shifty lawyer played by Paul Lukas who has an offer of 50K to present to Miss Goddard for the castle. Then there’s Anthony Quinn who urges her not to sell. And of course Hope who turns up at the same hotel Miss Goddard is staying at that also happens to be the location Fix and his gang of hoods call home. It’s all going to result in a comical case of who shot who. Hope’s packing heat believing he’s been summoned by Fix to be silenced and when shots are fired Hope himself fires blindly back believing he’s shot and killed Quinn in the hotel hallway out front of Goddard’s room.

Far from it and the end result is he’ll be transported to the ship leaving for Havana after stowing away in Goddard’s trunk in order to escape local police searching for a man fitting his description. Coming along with Bob is his valet, Willie Best, who is admittedly playing the stereotyped black man of the era so the less said I suppose the better aside from my stating matter of factly I much prefer the comedy antics of Mantan Moreland in this cliched type of role.

It’s while on board the ship that Hope overhears all the pressures being put upon Goddard to sell or face certain death if she attempts to stay overnight at the Castle. Then there’s the story of the voodoo witch and her zombie son who are the lone inhabitants. Then there’s Paul Lukas surprisingly making the trip and by chance an old friend of Goddard’s, Richard Carlson turning up. Now I’ll grant you that Miss Goddard is a ravishing creature and that’s probably the number one reason Hope has decided to remain by her side but I’d also like to point out that without Crosby on board for this Ghost Breaking journey, Hope gets to play more of a straight forward hero with less cowardly impulses then we’re used to. Sure he gets plenty of throwaway one liners but he’s found his courage this time out.

On the topic of one liners here’s a classic from Hope that some might find hilarious or offensive considering today’s world of politics. Hell I just think it’s laugh out loud funny no matter who the target is.

Carlson : “It’s worse than horrible because a zombie has no will of his own. You see them sometimes walking around blindly with dead eyes, following orders, not knowing what they do, not caring.”

Hope : “You mean like Democrats?”

There’s still a mysterious castle to visit, secret passageways  and ghosts to avoid for Bob and Willie while the stunning Paulette looks as if she’s stepped right out of a painting adorning the castle walls. Red herrings? A pair of Tony Quinns ? No you’re eyes aren’t playing tricks on you and if you’ve never actually seen this film but are big fans of Martin and Lewis than it should all sound real familiar. Dean and Jerry starred in a 1953 remake dubbed Scared Stiff that also brought along George Marshall to direct that version as well. The remake adheres very closely to this earlier script and if you haven’t seen the latter film, be sure to hang in till the closing seconds for some skeletal cameos by a pair of well known faces.

Ghost Breakers though not a sequel was a follow up to the 1939 comedy thriller, The Cat and the Canary, that also teamed Bob and Paulette. Paramount figured to capitalize on the earlier film’s success by reteaming the leads once again in a similarly plotted story. And while this might be a Paramount feature, if you’d splash the Universal Pictures logo across the screen as the film opens you’d think it was a nice compliment to that studios stable of monster movies.

One thing that’s absent from this and most if not all of Bob’s early films are a poke at his buddy and frequent co-star, Bing Crosby. Ghost Breakers was sandwiched between the duo’s first two road pictures that took them to Singapore and Zanzibar. For the majority of Bob’s comedies following those trips, Bing would either turn up in a cameo or bare the brunt of a solid Hope one liner. And vice versa if Bing was playing solo in a comedic role.

Having been a fan of Bob’s since childhood I’ve seen this one a number of times and watched it once again thanks to it’s inclusion in a box set of Hope’s many films.

11 Comments »

  1. I much prefer the comedy antics of Mantan Moreland in this cliched type of role.

    Same here. The joy of Moreland’s performances is that one has the sense he was wildly lampooning the stereotyping prejudices of the bigots among the audience, and they didn’t even realize he was doing it. I particularly enjoy his collaborations with Frankie Darro in this context, because Darro was in on the joke too.

  2. Dear Mike,

    This is a great article. This sounds like a very appropriate classic film for this month, an interesting mixture of spooky and funny. I like Paulette Goddard, and I’ll bet she is great with Bob Hope. It sounds like a classic cast in a fascinating premise. I’ll have to see this one!

    I wanted to let you know that I nominated you for a Liebster Award: https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2019/10/08/the-liebster-award-from-paul-batters/. At the end of the article, I invited you to join our blogathon next weekend. I look forward to hearing your response!

    Yours Hopefully,

    Tiffany Brannan

    • hello and thanks for the invite but yes this time to short and just can’t squeeze it in with too much going on here in Canada over the Thanksgiving weekend and commitments to another event this weekend with my Video Store Action Heroes group. Hope you have a great turnout and I’ll be sure to check in. Cheers and thanks for the nod. 🙂

  3. Man oh man, Paulette Goddard…what a cutie. I’ve seen clips from this one, but never the entire film, and what I get from the clips is what you mention above: that compared to the ‘Road’ pictures, Hope gets to be a little more serious, a little less ‘whimpy’, and more himself. I’ll have to track down both this one and ‘Cat and the Canary’…and yes, that quote is pretty funny, and quite topical as well!

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