One of the best horror-comedies ever made and among the strongest Bob Hope features in his filmography, George Marshall’s The Ghost Breakers offers both laughs and chills in abundance.
The Production: 4/5
One of the best horror-comedies ever made and among the strongest Bob Hope features in his filmography, George Marshall’s The Ghost Breakers offers both laughs and chills in abundance. With actual murders by an unknown assailant, an omnipresent ghost, and even a zombie stalking the premises, The Ghost Breakers has a lot more suspense quotient than the usual horror-farce, and stars Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard are at their peak making this a movie not to be missed.
When she inherits a ghost-plagued mansion off the coast of Cuba, Mary Carter (Paulette Goddard) resists persistent sales pitches by Parada (Paul Lukas) and heads to Black Island to see her inheritance for herself. Because he thinks he has inadvertently shot a man who was shooting at him in New York (perhaps attached to the mob with whom he is presently on the outs), radio star Larry Lawrence (Bob Hope) stows away in Mary’s steamer trunk and is thus headed to Cuba with her. Once they arrive, they hear stories of the haunted mansion which has been the scene of previous murders and is haunted not just by a ghost but a zombie (Noble Johnson) who protects it at the command of his witch-like mother (Virginia Brissac), but Mary, Larry, and Larry’s valet Alex (Willie Best) refuse to be scared away from trying to solve the mansion’s mysteries.
Based on a play by Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard, The Ghost Breakers’ screenplay is by Walter De Leon, the first sound adaptation of the piece after two silent versions had been previously produced. With murders happening and near-death experiences for both Mary and Larry by a shadowy figure, the mystery man in the movie boils down to four suspects: the enigmatic Mr. Parada, friendly playboy Geoff Montgomery (Richard Carlson) who becomes a rival with Larry for Mary’s affections, wealthy Cuban heir Ramon Mederos (Anthony Quinn), and the curiously jolly Martin (Lloyd Corrigan) who seems to turn up at the oddest of times and places. But despite the macabre and the murderous, there are also wonderful comic lines delivered beautifully by Hope, Goddard, and Best, and director George Marshall’s canny blending of the wicked and the wacky, aided by sensational production design and sound editing that milks every particle of suspense from the gruesome, light-starved Cuban mansion, gives the film a brisk pace and momentum that puts it at the top of its genre. In fact, Marshall’s handling of the material was so strong that he was selected twelve years later to mount the movie’s fourth film adaptation starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in Scared Stiff.
Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard have superb comic timing having appeared together just the previous year in the marvelous talkie remake of The Cat and the Canary, another great entry in the comedy-horror genre. It’s especially refreshing to have Bob Hope play something other than his usual egotistical coward. He’s more a leading man here: trepidatious but willing to risk all to protect his lady love, and Paulette Goddard is completely worthy of him looking sensational in everything from elaborate ball gowns to a voluptuously fitting bathing suit and handling the comedy and the drama with equal aplomb. Willie Best is a hoot and a half as the faithful valet, and Paul Lukas is earnestness personified as the sincere Mr. Parada. For being third-billed, Richard Carlson’s screen time is surprisingly limited. Anthony Quinn has fun playing twins, and Noble Johnson contributes mightily to the movie’s chill factor as the prowling zombie.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 is faithfully rendered in 1080p using the AVC codec. Though not every scene features acutely sharp detail and perfectly balanced contrast, most of the transfer is exceedingly clear with good grayscale. Black levels vary a bit in the early going but improve markedly in the later reels once we get to Black Island and that spooky mansion. Clearly there has been massive clean-up of the earlier elements as the DVD transfer was plagued with dirt, scratches, and reel cues, and this new Blu-ray has none of those problems. There are places where one can see evidence of clean-up markings, but they are only momentarily distracting. The movie has been divided into 8 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 sound design offers a very solid mono audio track. Fidelity is very good indeed as the well-recorded dialogue has been mixed with the background music of Ernest Toch and the prolific sound effects to make a highly atmospheric and most enjoyable soundtrack. There are no problems with age-related anomalies like hiss, crackle, flutter, or pops.
Special Features: 2.5/5
Audio Commentary: film historian Lee Gambin offers his usual off-the-cuff, stream-of-consciousness riff on the film, abetted by some appropriate asides on other films in this favorite genre. Not a memorable commentary but a busy one.
Trailers from Hell (2:52, HD): film historian Larry Karaszewski offers a capsule appreciation of the movie.
Theatrical Trailer (2:15, SD)
Kino Trailers: The Cat and the Canary, The Paleface, The Young in Heart, Murder, He Says.
George Marshall’s The Ghost Breakers is a memorable horror-comedy with fast and funny dialogue, a fair quota of shivery moments, and unbeatably appealing performances from Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, and Willie Best. The new Kino Blu-ray offers very good picture and excellent mono sound along with a few bonuses along the way. Recommended!
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