Fast and funny horror-comedy is one of the best in the genre. 4 Stars

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 Ghost Breakers (1940)
Released: 21 Jun 1940
Rated: Passed
Runtime: 85 min
Director: George Marshall
Genre: Comedy, Horror, Mystery
Cast: Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, Richard Carlson, Paul Lukas
Writer(s): Walter DeLeon (screen play), Paul Dickey (based on a play by), Charles W. Goddard (based on a play by)
Plot: A radio broadcaster, his quaking manservant and an heiress investigate the mystery of a haunted castle in Cuba.
IMDB rating: 7.2
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Universal
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 25 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD25 (single layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 09/15/2020
MSRP: $24.99

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.

Video: 4/5

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.

Audio: 5/5

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.

Overall: 4/5

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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Matt Hough

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verneaux

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Lee Gambin’s commentary seems to be about five minutes ahead at the mid picture point. He talks about Anthony Quinn in the nightclub during the stateroom scene for example. This is probably not his fault but due to sloppy mastering.
 

PMF

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Thanks for the review, Matt. This one is unknown to me and sounds like a great deal of fun. I’ll be sure to check it out.
 

Will Krupp

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Thanks for the review, Matt!

This is one of my favorites, but I have to admit to being disappointed and underwhelmed by this disc.

When GHOST BREAKERS made its DVD debut as part of the Bob Hope "Tribute" line back in 2002, the source material used for that master, while riddled with white negative dirt and an odd image "fluctuation" for a few minutes around the 65 minute mark, was sharp with really good shadow detail and had a beautiful grayscale. Photographically, it looked a lot like THE CAT AND THE CANARY from the year before. You may remember that when it was reissued on DVD in the "Thanks for the Memory" Collection in 2011 (or 2012?) they replaced the original master with a really contrasty interlaced transfer that was dark, soft, and dirtier than the the original one from ten years earlier. I was hoping it was a mistake but there was also talk at the time that the (then recent) Universal fire might be to blame for destroying the existing materials.

That (or something like it with the same result) must be true because this blu-ray is definitely sourced from the second incarnation. They've performed a near miracle to get it to where it is today (at least it's not interlaced!) but there's only so much that can be done with an inferior element. Any benefit gained from the increase in resolution is negated by a picture that is soft, dark, lacking in detail, and far too contrasty as compared to the 2002 DVD. Frankly, it looks like a dupe to me.

It's likely the best we can expect from the remaining elements but, fortunately, the twenty year old DVD upscales beautifully and I much prefer watching that to watching what we have now. I've transferred the new KINO to a double disc case and will keep both (I love having the original artwork.) I will concede that the sound is far more robust on the new blu-ray but, otherwise, it's very disappointing IMO.

THE CAT AND THE CANARY blu-ray, on the other hand, looks gorgeous I think.
 
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warthree

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Thanks for the review, Matt!

This is one of my favorites, but I have to admit to being disappointed and underwhelmed by this disc.

When GHOST BREAKERS made its DVD debut as part of the Bob Hope "Tribute" line back in 2001, the source material used for that master, while riddled with white negative dirt and an odd image "fluctuation" for a few minutes around the 65 minute mark, was sharp with really good shadow detail and had a beautiful grayscale. Photographically, it looked a lot like THE CAT AND THE CANARY from the year before. You may remember that when it was reissued on DVD in the "Thanks for the Memory" Collection in 2011 (or 2012?) they replaced the original master with a really contrasty interlaced transfer that was dark, soft, and dirtier than the the original one from ten years earlier. I was hoping it was a mistake but there was also talk at the time that the (then recent) Universal fire might be to blame for destroying the existing materials.

That (or something like it with the same result) must be true because this blu-ray is definitely sourced from the second incarnation. They've performed a near miracle to get it to where it is today (at least it's not interlaced!) but there's only so much that can be done with an inferior element. Any benefit gained from the increase in resolution is negated by a picture that is soft, dark, lacking in detail, and far too contrasty as compared to the 2001 DVD. Frankly, it looks like a dupe to me.

It's likely the best we can expect from the remaining elements but, fortunately, the twenty year old DVD upscales beautifully and I much prefer watching that to watching what we have now. I've transferred the new KINO to a double disc case and will keep both (I love having the original artwork.) I will concede that the sound is far more robust on the new blu-ray but, otherwise, it's very disappointing IMO.

THE CAT AND THE CANARY, on the other hand, looks gorgeous I think.
I had exactly the same reaction. The 2002 dvd came from a way better (photographically) element. The blu-ray is soft, contrasty and dupey-looking. It's the first time I've ever preferred a dvd to a blu-ray.
 

Robert Crawford

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Thanks for the review, Matt!

This is one of my favorites, but I have to admit to being disappointed and underwhelmed by this disc.

When GHOST BREAKERS made its DVD debut as part of the Bob Hope "Tribute" line back in 2001, the source material used for that master, while riddled with white negative dirt and an odd image "fluctuation" for a few minutes around the 65 minute mark, was sharp with really good shadow detail and had a beautiful grayscale. Photographically, it looked a lot like THE CAT AND THE CANARY from the year before. You may remember that when it was reissued on DVD in the "Thanks for the Memory" Collection in 2011 (or 2012?) they replaced the original master with a really contrasty interlaced transfer that was dark, soft, and dirtier than the the original one from ten years earlier. I was hoping it was a mistake but there was also talk at the time that the (then recent) Universal fire might be to blame for destroying the existing materials.

That (or something like it with the same result) must be true because this blu-ray is definitely sourced from the second incarnation. They've performed a near miracle to get it to where it is today (at least it's not interlaced!) but there's only so much that can be done with an inferior element. Any benefit gained from the increase in resolution is negated by a picture that is soft, dark, lacking in detail, and far too contrasty as compared to the 2001 DVD. Frankly, it looks like a dupe to me.

It's likely the best we can expect from the remaining elements but, fortunately, the twenty year old DVD upscales beautifully and I much prefer watching that to watching what we have now. I've transferred the new KINO to a double disc case and will keep both (I love having the original artwork.) I will concede that the sound is far more robust on the new blu-ray but, otherwise, it's very disappointing IMO.

THE CAT AND THE CANARY, on the other hand, looks gorgeous I think.
Well, I guess I'll have to take a look when I buy this BD as I have that 2002 DVD too.
 

katsuben

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Lee Gambin’s commentary seems to be about five minutes ahead at the mid picture point. He talks about Anthony Quinn in the nightclub during the stateroom scene for example. This is probably not his fault but due to sloppy mastering.

Just a thought, could it also be the result of undertaking audio recording for the commentary at home (because of lockdown) rather than in a professionally supervised studio environment? The audio may have been supplied with kinda fast and loose in a way that made it difficult to obtain perfect synch.
 

Matt Hough

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It's SO much better than the version in the Hope DVD set (I rewatched it about a week before I got the Blu-ray), and the differences between those two particular transfers are night and day.
 

Will Krupp

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It's SO much better than the version in the Hope DVD set (I rewatched it about a week before I got the Blu-ray), and the differences between those two particular transfers are night and day.

I agree with you there 100%! The movie as it appears in the "Thanks..." DVD set (and at least one subsequent reissue since then) was a shock. (Did I mention that it was interlaced?) The blu-ray is miles better than that sorry master

It's not a mistake! I trust your opinion that you thought this BD looked good. Others disagree, that's fine and dandy as we have these disagreements all the time.

Not to speak FOR Matt, but I THINK he meant the (understandable) mistake he made was in giving away the older DVD in favor of the one in the Bob Hope DVD set. It's a mistake I almost made myself and it was just a fluke that I hadn't given the first one away at the time I sat down and watched the set. I don't think he meant that his blu-ray review was a mistake and it's not. It's a thoughtful and accurate assessment of what's on the disc. There just happens to be a stronger source element (which can't be unseen) which, for whatever reason, went unused.

In my amateur opinion I can only guess but it seems as though Universal realized the original DVD master was unusable or unavailable in 2012 and they replaced it rather hastily with what they had on hand. The interlacing makes me think it was an old TV master pressed into last minute service.
 

LeoA

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Did anyone ever figure out which transfer of 'The Ghost Breakers' is on here?

812ou40fZvL._SY550_.jpg


I tried to figure it out following some suggestions here, but couldn't. It certainly didn't look awful to my eyes though, but I didn't have the older DVD to compare with.

If simple screenshots are adequate to discern which version was on here (likely the inferior newer transfer since this collection is about 5 years old), I could post a few screenshots.

I share the fondness for the DVD of The Cat and the Canary. I watched it on this collection immediately after going through Kino's excellent releases of the first six 'Road to ...' movies last year and visually it didn't feel like a step down in the least. With it looking so great just on DVD, I can't wait to check out Kino's Blu-Ray release.
 
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Will Krupp

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I tried to figure it out following some suggestions here, but couldn't. It certainly didn't look awful to my eyes though, but I didn't have the older DVD to compare with.

While I can't say for certain, if you have your Blu-ray player set to auto output DVDs at 24fps and this DVD is still running at 60hz then it's the same interlaced transfer as was on the 2012 yellow set.
 
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TPWard

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Thanks for the review, Matt!

This is one of my favorites, but I have to admit to being disappointed and underwhelmed by this disc.

When GHOST BREAKERS made its DVD debut as part of the Bob Hope "Tribute" line back in 2002, the source material used for that master, while riddled with white negative dirt and an odd image "fluctuation" for a few minutes around the 65 minute mark, was sharp with really good shadow detail and had a beautiful grayscale. Photographically, it looked a lot like THE CAT AND THE CANARY from the year before. You may remember that when it was reissued on DVD in the "Thanks for the Memory" Collection in 2011 (or 2012?) they replaced the original master with a really contrasty interlaced transfer that was dark, soft, and dirtier than the the original one from ten years earlier. I was hoping it was a mistake but there was also talk at the time that the (then recent) Universal fire might be to blame for destroying the existing materials.

That (or something like it with the same result) must be true because this blu-ray is definitely sourced from the second incarnation. They've performed a near miracle to get it to where it is today (at least it's not interlaced!) but there's only so much that can be done with an inferior element. Any benefit gained from the increase in resolution is negated by a picture that is soft, dark, lacking in detail, and far too contrasty as compared to the 2002 DVD. Frankly, it looks like a dupe to me.

It's likely the best we can expect from the remaining elements but, fortunately, the twenty year old DVD upscales beautifully and I much prefer watching that to watching what we have now. I've transferred the new KINO to a double disc case and will keep both (I love having the original artwork.) I will concede that the sound is far more robust on the new blu-ray but, otherwise, it's very disappointing IMO.

THE CAT AND THE CANARY blu-ray, on the other hand, looks gorgeous I think.
I have to agree with WIll, I watched CAT and GHOST on blu back to back, the difference in the quality was startling, and the older GHOST 2002 DVD looked much better whatever the issues as pointed out. I had given the DVD away to a friend in anticipation of the blu being a superior viewing experience. I just reordered the DVD for 10 bucks. The CAT AND THE CANARY was well worth the upgrade, not so GHOST, in my opinion.
 

Robert Crawford

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Can people tell me what type of displays they're watching this movie on? Whether it's a 120" screen versus a much smaller 65".
 

Will Krupp

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Can people tell me what type of displays they're watching this movie on? Whether it's a 120" screen versus a much smaller 65".

I muddle through with a "much smaller" 65 inch OLED :lol:

In all seriousness, if your display is too large to even WATCH upscaled DVDs and you know it already, then the point is moot. Stick with the blu-ray because, at some point, any advantages will no longer be worth the trade-off.
 
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