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GHOST BREAKERS, THE (director: George Marshall; screenwriters: Walter DeLeon/based on a play The Ghost Breaker by Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard/Walter DeLeon; cinematographer: Charles Lang; editor: Ellsworth Hoagland; music: Ernst Toch; cast: Bob Hope (Larry Lawrence), Paulette Goddard (Mary Carter), Richard Carlson (Geoff Montgomery), Paul Lukas (Parada), Willie Best (Alex), Pedro de Cordoba (Havez), Virginia Brissac (Mother Zombie), Noble Johnson (Zombie), Anthony Quinn (Ramon and Francisco Mederos), Paul Fix (Frenchy Duval); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Arthur Hornblow, Jr.; Universal Home Entertainment; 1940)
Mixing laughs and scares.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This box-office smash Paramount movie was a follow-up to the Bob Hope-Paulette Goddard 1939 hit comedy chiller, The Cat and the Canary. It was the second of three Hope pairings with Goddard, and it was the third version of the creaky Old Dark House plot (there was one in 1914, another silent in 1922 and a fourth version in 1953 called Scared Stiff that starred Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis). Art director Hans Dreier created the fantastic eerie Gothic sets where zombies walked around in a creepy haunted castle, which gave this Hope pic a sense of real filmmaking. Director George Marshall (“Destry Rides Again”/”The Blue Dahlia”/”Advance to the Rear”) directs with great skill mixing laughs and scares. It’s based on the play The Ghost Breaker by Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard, and is written by Walter DeLeon.

Manhattan resident Mary Carter (Paulette Goddard) inherits from relatives a haunted castle, “Castillo Maldito,” located on Black Island, off the coast of Cuba, and awaits in her hotel to sail that night to Havana. Meanwhile popular NYC radio personality, Larry Lawrence (Bob Hope), delivers a Walter Winchell-like diatribe over the air on gangster Frenchy Duval (Paul Fix), dishing out too much dirt, and receives a call from the gangster to meet him in his hotel. Larry packs a rod, for protection, he borrowed from his valet Alex (Willie Best), and accidentally fires off a shot when he’s in the corridor outside the gangster’s room as he hears gunfire in one of the rooms. Thinking he murdered someone, which turns out to be, Ramon Mederos (Anthony Quinn), a sinister wealthy Cuban who wants to purchase the castle, Larry hides in Mary’s room and since she recognizes the radio man she believes his story. When police come to search her room, Mary allows Larry to hide in her trunk. But the trunk is placed on the steamer and Larry sails to Cuba, accompanied by Alex, through the courtesy of Mary. After coming out of his trunk, Alex informs the boss that he’s innocent, as the police said a bullet from a different gun was responsible.

Landing in Havana, Mary receives a voodoo death threat and is warned by both her sinister Cuban lawyer adviser,Parada (Paul Lukas), and sinister recent acquaintance,Geoff Montgomery (Richard Carlson), an occultist American living in Cuba, to unload the haunted castle for cash would be her wisest course. But Larry, though a coward, is so smitten with the feisty heiress that he volunteers to be a “ghost breaker,”and with Alex rows that night to the castle and they confront a zombie, a disembodied voice, a ghost and, finally, a human killer trying to wrest the castle away from Mary because there’s a valuable silver mine underneath.

This is one of Hope’s finest films. It’s well-executed and the slight one-liners might be as lame as Hope’s jokes always are, but because this film has superior production values they don’t seem to be as annoying as usual.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”