It’s ghosts and gags galore again as Mary Carter (Paulette Goddard) travels from New York to Cuba to see the castle she’s inherited, said to be haunted of course. Enter radio star LarryLawrence (Bob Hope) whose mistaken-identity run-in with the mob has him stowing away for the ride! Soon the two are battling ghosts and zombies – not to mention the bad guys that want thecastle for themselves – with nothing but a suitcase of witty one-liners to save the day!
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In this continuing retrospective of Bob Hope’s Top Five Movies (at least in this reviewer’s opinion), I thought I’d follow My Favorite Brunette (my personal favorite) and The Cat And TheCanary (the first of that great eight-year run; see either previous review for the list) with Canary’s sort-of sequel – and without a doubt deserving to be in the Top Five – the thriller/comedy The Ghost Breakers.
Released just a year after Canary in 1940, The Ghost Breakers reunited several of the team, including Producer Arthur Hornblow Jr. and Scorer Ernst Toch, not to mention most of the teamwould reunite yet again for the following year’s Nothing But The Truth. Particular to note is scribe Walter DeLeon – who shines here – reunited with a hit play, this time by Paul Dickey &Charles W. Goddard (no relation to our leading lady, although Dickey and Charles W. were brothers-in-law). Interestingly enough, this was not the first time DeLeon tackled the GhostBreakers material. He had done so for the 1922 version, and even THAT wasn’t the first time the play had been filmed. The first was in 1914, handled by none other than a young Cecil B.DeMille. (And people say today’s Hollywood is obsessed with remakes!)
But the most significant reuniting was, of course, Hope and Paulette Goddard whose enormous success with Canary all but demanded a reuniting on-screen. And what better setting than thesame genre? More thrills and chills that tickle your funny bone as the wise-cracking Hope accompanies the brave and beautiful Goddard, once again the inheritor of a gloomy old place, supposed to be haunted, with a hidden treasure, all hampered by nefarious foes who want her out of the way. (And people say today’s Hollywood has run out of original ideas!)
Well, sometimes a pseudo sequel, second helping, whatever you want to call it is a very good thing. And The Ghost Breakers SHINES for the treatment, as everything about the film – scares,laughs, and especially story – are heightened to their utmost potential; and our utmost enjoyment.
(Vis-à-vis my talking about the Series of the 40s – see my Brunette review – I’m sure Paramount would have loved to continue something with Hope & Goddard, beyond Nothing But The Truth, but his Road series and her relationship with Charles Chaplin – not to mention her blooming into a star in her own right – hampered that. Perhaps more on this in my upcoming Truth review? But I digress.)
You may notice that I don’t delve too much into plot in my reviews. Well, that’s for two reasons. One, I don’t want to give it away, nervous that someone might be reading this without having yet seen the movie (and they ARE treasures to be discovered). Two, that plot, character names and the like aren’t WHY they’re treasures. If I say such-and-such is a Bob Hope vehicle about his wanting to play Private Eye, you get the idea. And if I say such-and-such is a Bob Hope vehicle about his battling ghosts in a haunted house, you get the idea. The plot and who he’s playing – who anyone’s playing, really – is sidelined for it being a Bob Hope vehicle (spotlighted byDorothy Lamour or Paulette Goddard or fill in your own lovely lady here). The same, with great respect, goes to most films of the 40s. It’s the new Errol Flynn film! It’s the new HumphreyBogart film! The 40s were when stars and their TYPES of films were what packed audiences in.
(Imagine today’s marketing allowing the same stars, writers, et cetera being in Film #2 without calling it that? The closest thing we have are the McKay-Ferrell and Apatow camps; and Godbless them for it. But, yes, I digress yet again.) Anyway, please forgive me if you’re looking for more in-depth play-by-play. For that, I dare say the film itself will do just fine on its own!
Which brings me back to our film of the day, and WHAT a treasure indeed. Next to My Favorite Brunette and, of the Road pictures, Utopia, I’ll stand by this film holding-up the best. As athriller, it has some very creepy shots (balanced so beautifully by Mr. Toch’s score): the zombie laying in his bed, turning his head to the light. His walking up the path to the staring, petrified Goddard. Don Santiago’s midnight stroll (to this day a better than decent effect). AND the hand creeping up the glass coffin, trying desperately to get Hope’s and Goddard’s attention.And as a comedy? You bet it’s funny, with the rapid-fire wit that only Hope can deliver. And not just Hope – and without leaving the best for last – there’s Willie Best delivering right along side him (and for whom, I’m afraid, once again this review hardly does justice). In fact, some of the funniest moments are Hope and Best simply interacting; in the New York apartment at the beginning, on the cruise ship, and skulking around the castle, what a wonderful “buddy picture” in the middle of our thriller-comedy.
Not to mention, going back to the in-game I talked about in the Brunette review (mastered by Hope & Co by that picture), there are some great uses in this one. Did you notice Hope humming‘Thanks For The Memories’ just before he’s introduced? And quipping about the New York storm (and city-wide blackout, thirty years before the real one), “Basil Rathbone must be having a party.” In the great Pamphlet Scene as they’re pulling into the Havana harbor – the Mad Lib esque back-and-forth that still makes me laugh – Hope says it sounds like a Cecil B. Demille picture (which, remember, it would have been, if we were watching his own Ghost Breakers just twenty-six years before). AND, as we heard Hope take a shot at the Republicans in Canary, it was only fair he address the Democrats in this one.
Speaking of not doing a review justice, I’d certainly be remiss not to at least mention our wonderful supporting cast in Richard Carlson, Paul Lukas, Pedro De Cordoba, a young – FAR pre Zorba – Anthony Quinn, Noble Johnson, Tom Dugan and Paul Fix. Great character actors, all of them (yes, even Quinn who, here, plays two parts). Look them each up on IMDB; you’ll be surprised how well you know them all! And I dare say Tom Dugan as Raspy Kelly is the butt of my favorite joke in the movie: with that near whisper voice of his, he just barely raises when Hope interrupts, “Don’t shout.” Just great.
As I’m sure all reviewers do, I skimmed the internet for whatever it had on The Ghost Breakers, found a lot, most of which I’d heard, but there was one bit I hadn’t thought of before (and congrats to that writer for noticing it): What happens to Lloyd Corrigan? That’s his real name, of course, but you know, the short pudgy fellow that seems harmless but is in fact a red herring; first on the pier, then on the ship, then in the Havana Club. But after that? Gone. Never explained. Is there info on an earlier cut with him as a cop or cohort at the end? If anyone knows, please share.
As The Ghost Breakers is the second helping from such a great team, this reviewer certainly wishes there were more. But even if it were the only one, it’s a comedic treasure well worth anight in its haunted house. (And visiting again and again!) As Hope says to Goddard at the end, “It’ll give us something to talk about on our honeymoon!” She replies with a smile, “Ourhoneymoon?” “Yeah,” he says, “didn’t I tell ya?” “No, but I’d like to hear more about it!” He smiles, “You would?” She nods, and they kiss.
If Canary was the wedding, then The Ghost Breakers is quite the honeymoon indeed.