What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2020) with… The Ghost Breakers (1940)

Today, we have that classic 1940 comedy The Ghost Breakers, starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard! But before we get to the movie, we have a theatrical short from the Ant And The Aardvark series. This one is available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of The Ant And The Aardvark from Kino Lorber!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Technology, Phooey (1970)

(Length: 6 minutes, 8 seconds)

The aardvark consults a computer for help catching the ant. The reliance on the computer adds something different here, helping keep the cartoon fresh for the series. The gags work really well, and it’s a lot of fun to watch! The only complaint I have (and I don’t know whether it’s just the Blu-ray/DVD from Kino Lorber, or whether this specific cartoon is this way usually) is the out-of-sync sound. Apart from that, it’s a fun cartoon!

And Now For The Main Feature…

(Narrator): It’s a daaark and stormy night in New York City. The storm has knocked out the power throughout the city. In a hotel room, Mary Carter (Paulette Goddard) is packing for a trip to Cuba. Apparently, she has just inherited the Castillo Maldito down in Cuba. It’s a castle that is apparently on Black Island, and is rumored to be haunted –

(Long, ghostly moaning sound)

(Narrator): Yes, haunted, or so she has been warned. Yet, she still wants to go down there to see the place anyway. A lawyer, Parada (Paul Lukas), has been sent with some papers for her to sign so that the estate can be transferred to her. He has also been authorized by somebody else to offer her a lot of money for the place. Before she can make her decision, she receives a phone call from a man named Ramon Mederos (Anthony Quinn), who warns her not to accept the offer from Parada. In another part of the city, crime reporter Lawrence Lawrence Lawrence (Bob Hope), also known as Larry, is packing for his own vacation. He is given a hot tip about a murder by one of his informants, Raspy Kelly (Tom Dugan), when he pays him for a previous tip. On the radio, Larry reports on mobster Frenchy Duval (Paul Fix), but Frenchy is less than thrilled with what he hears. He calls up Larry immediately after the broadcast, and offers to help him get the story straight.

(Sounds of machine guns going off)

(Narrator): Indeed. That is likely what he intended. Anyways, as it turns out, Frenchy is at the same hotel that Mary is staying at. Larry is driven there by his valet, Alex (Willie Best) –

(Host): Hold it! We need to stop to talk about this for a moment. African-American actor Willie Best as the valet is one of the points about this movie that hasn’t aged well. The character is still a racist black stereotype, especially with the way he is so easily scared by many things here. I do admit, I laugh at his antics, but I do realize it is still a problematic depiction just the same (although that is more likely the fault of the writers than of the actor himself). Anyways, back to the movie.

(Narrator): As I was saying, Larry is driven to the hotel by his valet, who gives him a gun for protection. While Larry is nervously working his way to Frenchy’s room, Ramon Mederos also is nearby, and tries to confront Parada, but Parade shoots him. When Larry hears the gunshot, he fires off in self-defense, and assumes he has killed Ramon. He makes his way into Mary’s room to hide, and she helps keep him hidden while the police search. Larry escapes by way of her big steamer trunk, which is taken to a ship. Once on board the ship, Mary lets him out, but he has to stay hidden a moment longer while Parada is in the room with her. After they exit the room, Larry gets back out of the trunk, only to find a threatening note that had been sent to Mary. Instead of trying to get off the boat, Larry decides to come with Mary and protect her, even after Parada warns him of the dangers he may face. When the boat arrives in Cuba, Mary runs into Geoff Montgomery (Richard Carlson), a resident of Cuba whom she had met in New York a few weeks before. He offers to take Mary and Larry out to dinner, which she accepts. Larry, however, decides to sneak off to Black Island via rowboat, with Alex to help him. While out with Geoff, Mary runs into Francisco Mederos (Anthony Quinn), the identical twin brother of the late Ramon. Wanting to get away (especially after realizing that Larry had left without her), she decides to leave Geoff and find her own way out to the island.

(Darkness descends on the stage)

(Narrator): Ah, yes. Night has fallen. Larry and Alex successfully make it to the island just before midnight (much to Alex’s regret), and proceed to search the mansion. At midnight, they see a ghost rise up out of a coffin.

(Eerie music playing in background)

They’re both scared as they watch the ghost walk around and return to the coffin (and who wouldn’t be scared at that sight?). Larry is still curious and insists on continuing to search the place in order to find out what’s going on. Meanwhile, Mary arrives, but finds herself in trouble when the caretaker (Virginia Brassac) sends in her zombie son (Noble Johnson) to do away with her. Mary gets away, but Larry and Alex find themselves dealing with the zombie. Mary helps them by dressing like her ancestor, which spooks the zombie enough for them to capture him. While still searching, Larry and Mary come across a mortally wounded Parada, who tries to warn them of danger. With a nearby pump organ, they find a secret passage that brings them into a mine shaft, where everything is revealed.

(Host): In 1939, Bob Hope was successfully teamed up with Paulette Goddard for The Cat And the Canary. The combination of horror and comedy using an old property worked well for the duo, and Paramount Studios wanted to team them up for another. For this film, they made use of the old play The Ghost Breaker. That tale had previously been filmed twice before, once in 1914 and again in 1922 (both silent films). They made great efforts with the castle sets to help create the atmosphere here, which worked well for them. The movie was a big hit, resulting in Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard being teamed up one more time for the movie Nothing But The Truth (1941), as well as influencing other studios to try their hands at horror comedies. The story would be filmed one more time in 1953 as the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis vehicle Scared Stiff, which would bring back Bob Hope for a cameo role, alongside his Road movies co-star Bing Crosby.

(Eerie music plays as a ghostly figure comes out on stage right)

(Said sarcastically) Oh yes, very scary. (Back to normal) This is a movie I’ve seen a number of times over what is now fast approaching twenty years, and I still enjoy it. Personally, I would say that the horror aspects don’t really kick in until the last half hour of the movie, with the remaining movie more or less preparing you for what goes on at the castle. The score, especially during the segment at the mansion, really helps provide the atmosphere for the scares. I’m still impressed with the special effects for the “ghost” (of course, if you want to know whether it’s real or not in the story, then see the movie), and the zombie is equally scary (although if you’re expecting something like the more modern image of a zombie, you would likely be disappointed). Bob Hope’s humor is still quite good here (even if he is braver than his later screen persona would indicate), and he has good chemistry with Paulette Goddard. All in all, a very fun movie to watch any time of the year (but especially around Halloween), so I would definitely recommend this movie for some good laughs and a few frights!

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber, with the disc case claiming it’s a brand new 2K master. From what I’ve heard, the movie, when released on DVD by Universal Studios, had two different transfers, one on the 2002 release, and a different one when the movie was released again in 2010. It sounds like most think the earlier version was actually the better transfer, for whatever reason. The impression I am getting is that Kino was working with the more recent transfer for their Blu-ray release. I can see some spots where the transfer has its issues, but I do think that it’s very likely they did the best with what is available, and they did do some clean-up here (although there are a few spots with specks and dirt remaining). Everybody will get different mileage out of it, but for me, its good enough, and I appreciate the work that was done to make it better.

(Narrator comes out on stage left while the ghost remains on stage right)

(Host): (looks first at narrator, then at ghostly figure, then back at narrator) Ummm… wasn’t that you as the ghost?

(Narrator): (Nervously) No, as you can see, I’m right here.

(Host): Well, if that’s not you, and it’s not me, then who is it?

(Both turn to look at the ghost)

(The ghost starts to laugh an evil, maniacal laugh, similar to the Headless Horseman from the Disney film The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad)

Happy Halloween everyone!

Film Length: 1 hour, 25 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Road To Singapore (1940)Bob HopeRoad To Zanzibar (1941)

The Cat And The Canary (1939) – Paulette Goddard – Nothing But The Truth (1941)

The Cat And The Canary (1939) – Bob Hope/ Paulette Goddard (screen team) – Nothing But The Truth (1941)

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