As fond as I
am of the 1939 version of The Cat & The Canary,
the words of that great philosopher Daffy Duck leap to mind: “If they like
mess, they’re starvin’ for some real hoofin’!” Well, if Paramount’s
1940 tweaking of The Ghost Breakers (TGB)
isn’t the real hoofin’,
I don’t know what is! It’s a premium blend of snappy comedy, playful romance,
and genuine spooky suspense. Producer Arthur Hornblow, Jr. (Witness for the Prosecution; The Asphalt Jungle; Oklahoma!)
reunites The Cat & The Canary
Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard, as well as director George Marshall (The Gazebo; It Started with a Kiss).
Their funny, sparkling chemistry
together is better than ever, blending warmth, romance, and comedy as
deliciously as a daiquiri. Hope and Goddard are so darling together, I want to
hug them and bring them home for the holidays! (But a DVD will do!) I like the
cheeky references to Paulette Goddard’s Cecil B. DeMille movies, too
(Unconquered; Reap the Wild Wind,
|Be very, very quiet; we're hunting ghosts!|
Based on the
work of Walter DeLeon and based on the play by John Willard and Paul Dickey and
Charles W. Goddard (any relation to co-star Paulette Goddard?), the film gets
off to an exciting start in New York City during a violent thunderstorm that’s
almost worthy of Hurricane Sandy. “Nice night for a murder,” says our heroine
Mary Carter (Goddard) as she packs for her voyage to pre-Castro Cuba. She only thinks
she’s kidding, with all the mystery and intrigue afoot! You see,
Mary’s off to Cuba to claim her family inheritance, Castillo Maldito, or “Black
Island.” Sounds cozy already, huh? Mary’s mom had told her about Black Island
and its sinister legends, but Mary’s a good-natured yet skeptical New Yorker
who doesn’t scare easily: “(My mother) also told me about Santa Claus, Snow
White, and the Seven Dwarves.” Of course, her Cuban advisor, Senor Havez (Pedro
de Cordoba of Anthony Adverse; The Corsican Brothers;
gives Mary a last friendly warning: “We must admit there is a
dividing line somewhere between superstition and the supernatural. All I know
is that during the last twenty years, no human being who has tried to spend the
night in Castillo Maldito ever lived to see a sunrise.” You never know; I can
imagine the eager developers eventually showing up waving contracts for chain
restaurants and hotels anytime now! But Mary gets an urgent phone call from
Ramon Medeiros (Anthony Quinn of Road to Singapore
and Road to
well as winning
Best Supporting Actor Oscars for
Lust for Life
and Viva Zapata!)
about her upcoming trip.
Alas, whatever it was he wanted to say gets lost in a hail of gunfire, and poor
Medeiros is no more. What was Medeiros trying to tell Mary before everyone got
"Johnny Ola told me about her! They call her 'Superman'!"
meet our hero, radio star Larry Lawrence (Hope) and his valet Alex (Willie Best
of High Sierra; Cabin in the Sky;
and Hope and Goddard’s third film
together, Nothing But the Truth
). Larry’s full name is in fact Lawrence
Lawrence Lawrence, a name so nice they named him thrice! “My parents had no
imagination,” Larry explains. He and Alex are packing for a fishing trip, but
will they end up sleeping with the fishes instead? You see, as if the storm and
the hotel’s resulting blackout weren’t already agita-inducing, Larry’s radio
show focuses on dishing the dirt on notorious criminal underworld types.
Wouldn’t you know Larry has run afoul of gangster Frenchy Duvall (Paul Fix of
After the Thin Man; Dr. Cyclops;
ironically, TV’s The Rifleman,
as Marshal Micah Torrence!)? Now Duvall
is out for blood. Sheesh,
underworld types can be so sensitive! As more gunplay ensues, Larry fears he’s the one who accidentally
killed Medeiros, and he and Alex end up unwittingly joining Mary on a slow boat
|Young Richard Carlson as The Man in the White Suit!|
blooms for Mary and Larry, though that doesn’t stop others from trying to keep
our heroes from reaching Black Island, including Dr. Parada (Paul Lukas of
Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes; 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; Watch on the
the film that won Lukas his Best Actor Oscar), Anthony Quinn again,
this time as Ramon Medeiros’ brother Francisco. Look sharp during the scene at
the Las Palmas nightclub with Lloyd Corrigan (Whistling in the Dark; The Big
Clock; The Manchurian Candidate;
the Boston Blackie
for a brief appearance by lovely Dolores Moran (To Have and Have Not; The
Horn Blows at Midnight; Old Acquaintance)
and a dapper young Richard Carlson
(The Little Foxes; The Creature from the Black Lagoon; It Came from Outer
and the fact-based 1953 to 1956 TV series I Led Three Lives)
as Mary’s old friend Geoff Montgomery. Carlson is in one of my favorite scenes:
“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.”
“You mean like Democrats?”
|They won't hear nothin' more |
from The Mighty Quinn....
comedy and horror elements blend
superbly, with character actor Noble Johnson (King Kong; Jungle Book; The Most Dangerous Game)
playing a truly haunting, memorable zombie. John M. Miller from the TCM Web site notes
pre-dates Val Lewton’s I Walked With A Zombie
three years. For better or worse, like any actors who were even remotely
swarthy, both Anthony Quinn and Noble Johnson were frequently cast in supporting
roles at Universal Studios and RKO as Native Americans, Latinos, Arabs, and other so-called “exotic” types.
production values are top notch, from Edith Head’s gorgeous wardrobe for Paulette Goddard, to Hans Dreier and Robert Usher’s Art Direction, to the
cinematography of Charles Lang (Charade;
Some Like It Hot; How to Steal a Million). Farciot Edouart’s special
effects photography with the ghosts emerging is eerily captivating.
|...Or will they? He resurrects real good!|
Willie Best was
highly praised by none other than his co-star Bob Hope, who said Best was one of
the best actors he ever knew—and yet so many people have criticized him, or more
specifically, the African-American stereotypes he was called upon to portray. I
say you can’t fault a performer (or anyone else) for NOT
being ahead of his time! My dear
friend and fellow blogger Becky Barnes of
ClassicBecky’s Brain Food
renown agrees: “Willie Best was one of the
best comedians of the era. It's such a shame things were the way they were then.
I think he just about carried The Ghost Breakers,
and he deserves acclaim
for his work.” Amen to that, sister!
|Bob Hope and Willie Best agree: no comedy-thriller holds a candle to The Ghost Breakers!|
zombies never die, neither do remakes: The Ghost Breakers was
successfully remade in 1953 for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis as Scared Stiff,
with Lizabeth Scott as the heiress-in-distress, including voiceover cameos by
Bob Hope and Bing Crosby!
|I think Mary would prefer a free drink or a mint on her pillow!|
|Ooh, The Zombies! I loved that band!|
|Laura, er, Mary is the face in the misty light....|
|Aha, we've solved the mystery! Mary's ancestor was Dr. Phibes!|
|Don't you just love a happy ending on the high seas?|
I've been waiting for this one, Dorian -- The Ghost Breakers is my #1 favorite classic comedy! You really hit all the high points in your piece, and I can't help it, that zombie/democrat joke makes me laugh every time! Another favorite line of mine from the movie is in the beginning, when Hope and Best are looking out the window of the hotel at the lightning, and Hope says "Basil Rathbone must be having a party." And who could forget the zombie's mother in the castle, screaming and running, and Hope says "Upstairs at the end of the hall."ReplyDelete
Shoot, there are so many funny things in this movie you'd have to quote the whole thing to get them all. I too think that Hope and Goddard were just wonderful together. I really loved your caption "Laura, er, Mary is the face in the misty light...." Good stuff!
Thanks so much for including my comment about Willie Best -- so many of those wonderful black actors were essential to the movies they were in, and never received their due. I'm glad they are getting it now, from us. Excellent article, Dorian!
Becky, beaucoup thanks for your enthusiastic praise of my GHOST BREAKERS post! I'll admit I'd been looking forward to catching up with TGB, too, so I'm especially tickled that you were the first to comment here, my friend! You're absolutely right that there are so many funny things in TGB, you really WOULD end up quoting pretty much every line - and by golly, that's the way we like it! And you're most welcome re your comments; they're always excellent, and your thoughtful remark about Willie Best in particular was well worth repeating. Thanks, Becks, and hugs and a Happy Thankgiving to you and yours from all of us here at Team Bartilucci HQ!Delete
Gotta agree with Becky here. This is one of my favorite Bob Hope films (sans Bing) and he and Paulette are so great together - she is the perfect foil for him. Great post that brought a smile to my face.ReplyDelete
FlickChick, thanks for your positive feedback on my GHOST BREAKERS post! I wholeheartedly agree that the ever-delightful Paulette Goddard was a marvelous foil for Bob Hope! Heck, I wish Hope and Goddard had made even more movies together (haven't yet had a chance to see NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH), but I'm happy with the Hope/Goddard movies they DID do together. I hope you and yours have a truly Happy Thanksgiving, and may the only turkeys you put up with are the ones on your plate at the dinner table! :-)Delete
GHOST BREAKERS and THE CAT AND THE CANARY would make for a sweet double feature. I favor GB over CAT but both are great comedies. I reviewed both of these films in one review some time ago and one thing I read while doing some research was that Hope got to meet Charlie Chalpin, his idol, during the making of THE CAT AND THE CANARY. Goddard, as you know, was married to The Little Tramp at the time. Charles Lang was the cinematographer for both films and was responsible for the nice eerie atmosphere. Great and entertaining review as always. And here's hoping the entire Team B has a very happy Thanksgiving!ReplyDelete
John, many thanks indeed for your kudos for my take on THE GHOST BREAKERS! I can imagine how excited and honored Bob Hope must have been to meet his comedy idol. Of course, getting to work with the lovely, intelligent, and talented Paulette Goddard was a pretty sweet deal as well! :-)Delete
Charles Lang has been among my favorite DPs since I saw CHARADE, and seeing Lang's work in TGB and THE CAT AND THE CANARY has only confirmed my assessment. You know, I've decided THE GHOST BREAKERS just might be my very favorite comedy-thriller of all time! Thanks again, my friend; we of Team B. hope you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving, too!
You brought back all the fun and fond memories I have of stumbling onto this delightful film, when it ran on TCM, back when I actually had cable tv.ReplyDelete
There are so many great elements to The Ghost Breakers, and you're so right about Willie Best and Hope and Goddard's chemistry.
I especially love your cheeky captions! You're too much! Great post...can't wait to see what's up next at The Easily Distracted film room...Have a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving too!
Joey, beaucoup thanks for your kind praise of my THE GHOST BREAKERS post! I'm delighted that you enjoyed my cheeky captions, too. I admit it, coming up with captions is my favorite thing about coming up with the blogposts! :-) TGB never fails to get me laughing - a perfect way to start Thanksgiving, in this case! :-) All of us here at Team B. HQ hope you and yours have a truly happy Thanksgiving, my friend!Delete
This is like coals to Newcastle for me, Dorian. You know I ADORE this movie. Lucky for me, I have the DVD so can play it whenever I'm in the mood. For my two cents, this is Bob Hope's best film. It's certainly my own Best of the bunch. Although I also love THE CAT AND THE CANARY, just not as much as GHOSTBREAKERS. Lawrence Lawrence Lawrence - HA! Love it. I also love and appreciate Willy Best and am fond of quoting some of his lines from the movie - what that poor guy has to put up with. Don't you love it when the lines of a movie come readily to mind and the whole movie flashes in front of your eyes? THE GHOSTBREAKERS is one of those for me. I know it backwards and forwards.ReplyDelete
I wrote about it on my blog a while back and I see, from reading your post, we share the same wild enthusiasm for this flick. Wouldn't it be great to see this up on the BIG screen???
Great job, as always. :)
Yvette, once I'd realized you'd already written a post about THE GHOST BREAKERS in 2011, I was almost more excited about reading your TGB than mine, because your playful, cheeky blogposts are always smart, funny, and great fun to read. But I'm also delighted that you enjoyed my version, too - beaucoup thanks, my friend! Our great minds think alike!Delete
I totally agree with you that it would be awesome to see TGB on a big screen. Think we could get the folks at Fathom (the gang who recently brought back SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, FRANKENSTEIN, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, etc.) to get TGB on big screens again?
Hey, gang, for anyone here who hasn't had the pleasure of reading Yvette's 2011 post about TGB, here's the link - enjoy!
It's a shame how Willie "Sleep 'n' Eat" Best was treated in his day; not so much byu his fellow actors (Hope always referred to him as a consumate professional and a fine comedian) but the PR department of the studio, who put out endless press releases playing him as a comical subhuman. One purpoted that Mr/ best's pay was placed in a trust for him, as if it were given to him in cash, wold immediately go towards liquor and floating crap games.ReplyDelete
Sadly, the comedy in the film is looked down upon today as well. Late-night horror host Svengoolie has access to the Universal library, and ran TGB a few weeks back. Sadly, he either chose to, or may have been pressured to (no idea which), cut out all the ethnically-related jokes. Example - Hope referring to Best in a darkened room - "You look like a blackout in a blackout! I'm gonna have to paint you white!)
I gey why he he had to do so, but it's a shame THAT he had to. I always prefer to let that humor stand, and discuss it if needs be with the young, innocent, and/or stupid.
Vinnie, I too think it shows real ignorance to try to make all old movies conform to another era. Not only that, but it is re-writing -- or rather un-writing -- someone else's work, and that is reprehensible. For Pete's sake, if they are that sensitive, just don't show it. I've said before that Mel Brooks' Robin Hood, Men in Tights, was edited by AMC, I think, to remove all gay references. My gosh, the movie was a mess and didn't make any sense after all that was done. We just need to talk to our young people, explain, discuss history, and encourage them to see the talent of those who were considered wrongly inferior in another age. That's what the study of history is all about.Delete
I wouldn't want to watch the film without the lines I've come to love and expect. I love Willie Best in this and certainly he gets his own back in certain scenes and incidentally gets some of the funniest lines. My favorite being, "I hope you get your expects."Delete
I agree with you Beck, that you can't change the older movies to conform with today's differing points of view. They are what they are. If you're really offended, then you don't have to watch them. But you'd be missing out on some great film-making.
I always felt that Hope and Best were a team on more or less equal footing. The sort of thing that really makes me cringe is, for example, Stepin Fetchit in CHARLIE CHAN IN EGYPT. Now there's a film that is unwatchable though Chan (Warner Oland) treats the Fetchit character with more respect than anyone else in the cast. But Fetchit to me is really unwatchable. Sad.
Quite right, Yvette. Poor Stepin Fetchit was the generation behind Willie Best, really, and the portrayals they had to do were so incredibly insulting and demeaning. I can't watch them either. You can definitely see the evolution with each generation, but it should have moved faster, as should have the whole culture's evolution.Delete
Vin, I'm delighted that you joined our conversation here at TotED about THE GHOST BREAKERS in general and Willie Best in particular! Your comments are right on target, as always, particularly your suggestion to let the film's humor stand and discuss it with, as you put it with your usual cheeky brio, "the young, innocent, and/or stupid." Like I always say in these situations, you can’t fault a performer (or anyone else) for NOT being ahead of their time! Thanks for putting in your two cents, hon! :-*ReplyDelete
Hey Dorian, I just responded to Vinnie's response -- LOL! Isn't it fun when a post you do engenders a real conversation. Love it!ReplyDelete
Becks, I'm with you! I always enjoy everybody's comments, but Vinnie and I both love it when the comments turn into a full-blown conversation! Hey, everybody, feel free to join our chats here at TotED anytime - we love it! :-DDelete
I think Hope and Goddard together were fab and I really enjoyed this film. You can't go wrong with spooky old homes, darkness and zombies running about.
However, it wasn't until I read your very detailed review that I thought of White Zombie. I have to say the plot, then going to Cuba, expecting one thing. (inheritance) getting scared out of your wits instead when things aren't what they seem, the host and everyone around is weird. Then there are the zombies and weird notes. It's like we're really getting a spoof of White Zombie. Of course WZ was hilarious because it was so bad but this film was enjoyable from beginning to end.
I want to re-watch it now just to visualize for myself all of the reasons it reminds me of White Zombie. How did I miss the subtle then in your face similarities?
Another fun and insightful review you have here.
I hope you and the family had a wonderful Thanksgiving.
All the best!
Page, Vinnie and I are delighted that you enjoyed THE GHOST BREAKERS and the comments Vin and I made - many thanks, pal! Your comments referencing WHITE ZOMBIES cracked us up! I got a kick out of your notion that TGB is essentially a parody of WZ!Delete
All of us here at Team Bartilucci HQ hope you and your family are happy and safe on this Thanksgiving weekend! Hugs to all!
So many things to love about "The Ghost Breakers" and you touched on them all.ReplyDelete
Years ago there was a student co-op placement at my office. She had her brother had caught a Bob Hope movie on the late show and were greatly impressed. They hadn't seen him before so had no preconceived notion of "the old guy the folks like to watch on TV". Knowing I liked classic movies, they asked me for recommendations. A very happy memory. Three cheers for Bob Hope!
Caftan Woman, thanks for your enthusiastic comments on THE GHOST BREAKERS! I love your anecdote about you bringing Bob Hope to that student's attention, resulting in another new Hope fan (and a new Paulette Goddard fan, I hope)! Hooray for word of mouth, one of the best ways to introduce folks to great movies! All of us here at Team Bartilucci HQ hope you and yours will have a wonderful holiday season!Delete
Such a fun review, Dorian. Bob Hope looks so young here! I'm really looking forward to seeing this after your well-crafted recommendation. :)ReplyDelete
Ruth, thanks for your positive feedback on THE GHOST BREAKERS; I was tickled by your comment about my "well-crafted recommendation"! :-) Hope and Goddard sure made a delightful screen team, and they had such wonderful, sparkling chemistry together. The hilarious gags and bon mots can't be beat either! :-DDelete
Love Bob Hope even without Bing and Dorothy. His house around here is for sale now--I think it's 45 million. Chump change for successful writers like you and Vinnie. Well?ReplyDelete
Eve, thanks for winding up my evening with a great belly laugh! $45 million - a mere bag o' shells! :-) Hey, nothing wrong with dreaming about the good life; it's good practice for better things in life to come, I'd say! :-) Glad we caught up with each other today, my friend!Delete
Really fun, spot-on review of one of Hope's Best (ha ha!...sorry) comedies, Dorian! I agree with Vinnie et al that TV stations shouldn't tinker with older films, but let them stand and allow the historical context to be conversation starters. Also, Willie Best, as you say, gets the lion's share of the best lines in THE GHOST BREAKERS. Paulette Goddard is really scrumptious in this and is a terrific foil for Hope. It's nice to see him get the girl for a change, instead of losing out to that sneaky Crosby fellow. I haven't seen the Martin and Lewis remake yet (Jerry Lewis is an uphill proposition for me most days, though I like Martin a lot), but it would be hard pressed to beat TGB for humor and creepy atmosphere.ReplyDelete
Jeff, we're happy to have you drop by here at TotED and join the GHOST BREAKERS chat! Vinnie and I both agree with you wholeheartedly about the utterly winsome Hope and Goddard team, as well as the wonderful Willie Best. Loved your comment about seeing Hope "get the girl for a change, instead of losing out to that sneaky Crosby fellow..." - and what a girl Goddard was, smart, funny AND gorgeous! :-) Feel free to stop by anytime, Jeff!Delete
I'm with Becky. GHOSTBREAKERS is my numero uno comedy mystery of all time. In my family, it's a classic we discovered years ago. I love everyone and everything in this movie. Love the script, the direction, the actors, everything!ReplyDelete
Most especially the first ten or so minutes as they set up the story and characters. Just wonderful. That noirish New York storm where the lights go out then the show at the station then the trip to the hotel then to the docks. FABULOUS!
And we didn't even get to Cuba yet. :)
Thanks for featuring this, Dorian. I wrote about it a while back so you know I do not exagerate when I say I LOVE THIS MOVIE!!!
Oh, I agree with you all, by the way, Willie Best just about steals the movie. "I hope you get your expects." Love him.
Loved your post, too.
Yvette, I know you and I both love Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard as much as all of us here at Team Bartilucci HQ (what with you having superb taste in movies and all :-)), so I'm delighted to have you join our GHOST BREAKERS lovefest! :-D I never get tired of it! GHOST BREAKERS forever! Have a lovely evening, my friend!Delete