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GHOST BREAKERS (Thursday, 8pm EST) - A Great Scare Comedy


TomJH
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Many film buffs would probably select Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein as the best scare comedy of the Hollywood Golden Era. And it's an understandable selection for a variety of reasons.

 

A case can be made, though, for Bob Hope's THE GHOST BREAKERS, scheduled for broadcast on TCM Thursday, Oct. 16 at 8pm (EST).

 

Highly effective as the three actors are who portray the monsters in Meet Frankenstein, is there anybody watching that film today that is actually frightened of those Universal Studios creatures? If anything, there may be feelings of affection and endearment for Frankenstein's Monster, Dracula and the Wolf Man. (Though I must admit that as a small boy watching that film for the first time as I sat on my father's lap, I covered my eyes whenever the music for the Wolf Man started to play on the soundtrack).

 

GHOST BREAKERS, a handsomely mounted "A" production from Paramount relies more upon atmosphere for its very effective chills. There is a ghost in the film, as well as a zombie (and, let me tell you, this zombie played by Noble Johnson is STILL a frightening creation to me, even in my adult years). But, aside from those creatures of the night, the film's horror content is benefited tremendously by some great sets and matte paintings of a haunted castle, strong black and white photography (just look at that silhouette shot of the castle at night with those moody clouds passing behind it), as well as a genuinely eerie musical score by Ernst Toch. For my money, the horror content of this film plays better than that in most straight horror films of the time.

 

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Oh, yes, the film also has a lot of solid laughs, as well, with a decidedly above average screenplay. The story involves spunky Paulette Goddard as an heiress who inherits a Cuban castle reputed to be haunted. Goddard enjoys the tales of ghosts and those who didn't manage to live at the castle until dawn but is openly skeptical about them. She's determined to go there, of course, no matter what kinds of warnings she receives. Aren't all heroines in these kinds of films?

 

Without going into too many specifics about the story line, radio announcer Lawrence Lawrence (yeah, and his middle name is Lawrence, too - his folks had no imagination), played by Bob Hope, gets roped into the ocean liner trip to Cuba, as well. Accompanying him is his black manservant, Alex, played by Willie Best.

 

This film was made early in Hope's film career before his screen persona was fully established. There are plenty of the expected Hope one liners, of course, and the first half of the film gives him the opportunity to play the scaredy cat. In the film's latter half, however, once on the haunted island, Hope largely turns hero as he investigates the spooky surroundings and most of the comedy chores fall to Best.

 

Hope is more than credible in this transformation of his character in the film, as well as playing comic romantic leading man to vivacious Paulette (surely one of the most beautiful and engaging of all frightened heroines in distress). Hope and Goddard would appear in three comedies together (include another scarey one made the year before, The Cat and the Canary). This is the best of them, in my opinion, with the two stars demonstrating delicious on screen chemistry. 

 

GhostBreakers7_zpsd9bbec97.jpg

 

There will be those, of course, who will deride the film to some degree because of the political incorrectness of the casting of Best. Best, though, is genuinely funny in the production, with great timing and facial reactions. Not only that but there is a sweet quality about his performance (he seems to really care about Bob's welfare), making him an endearing character, stereotype casting or not. Best also has, to the best of my knowledge, more screen time in this film than in any other major "A" production of his career. This film was probably the highlight of his career, Hope later calling Willie one of the best comedians with whom he ever worked.

 

One other thing: I think that Best has, for my money, the single funniest line of dialogue in the film, which he delivers beautifully within a minute or two after he and Hope land on the spooky island. Without giving too much away for those yet to see the film, Best's line comes as a response right after he and Hope spot an eerie spectral on a fog covered bridge and Bob says to him, "She's probably just trying to scare us."

 

And for those yet to see this film for the first time, the scene in which Paulette encounters the zombie is a guaranteed chill maker. GHOST BREAKERS is worth watching, if only for that moment alone.

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Thanks for pointing that out, Tom, I'd love to see it again. I like that genre of Hope films; unfortunately there are four of them which merge together for me: The Ghost Breakers, They've Got Me Covered, My Favorite Blonde, and My Favorite Brunette. I remember liking them all, but I don't remember which is which! 

 

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Many film buffs would probably select Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein as the best scare comedy of the Hollywood Golden Era. And it's an understandable selection for a variety of reasons.

 

A case can be made, though, for Bob Hope's THE GHOST BREAKERS, scheduled for broadcast on TCM Thursday, Oct. 16 at 8pm (EST).

 

i AGREE. A great movie.... with the funniest one-line joke in movie history, which I dare not quote. :)

 

Willie Best is a great comedian in this film and he has some of the funniest lines. He is a real acting professional.

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This film doesn't work for me at all.  I was too busy watching Paulette  to get scared or pay attention to Hope's gags. :)  ;)

 

Well, mrroberts, I agree that Paulette Goddard was particularly lovely in this film. It is certainly the actress at her most vivacious and engaging. Few actresses were her equal, I feel, when it came to a combination of striking good looks and an upbeat positive personality.

 

But did you not notice the strong rapport that she had with Hope?

 

Did you not notice the zombie that scared Paulette enough that she ripped her robe while trying to escape up those castle stairs?

 

Well, if your perception of the rest of Ghost Breakers' considerable virtues had to be blinded by something, at least I can understand why it was by this particular leading lady.

 

GhostBreakers9_zps1976ead1.jpg

 

Paulette was never shy about posing in a swim suit. Here's a shot of "Zom" questioning her about the suit she selected.

 

(Yeah, I think I know where your attention is here, mrroberts. THERE'S A ZOMBIE IN THIS PICTURE, TOO, MRROBERTS. Just thought I'd draw your attention to that little fact).  :D

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Here’s an interesting difference between the 1940 movie joke about the zombies, and the radio broadcast version of the same joke, as used in the 1951 radio play. Listen at about 12:15 into this radio broadcast:

 

The Roosevelt years of the film as opposed to the Eisenhower years of the radio broadcast producing a subtle but distinct difference in a Hope punch line.

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I saw this film for the first time last night, and I agree with your comments regarding Ghost Breakers (1940) standing in the comedy/horror genre: this is one of the better films I've seen. I am a huge fan of Paulette Goddard, try to watch anything in which she had a role, but I never warmed to Bob Hope. This film changed my mind regarding Hope's appeal, but I was particularly impressed with Willie Best. I was pre-occupied during The Old Dark House (1963), but made sure I saw The Smiling Ghost (1941) with Willie, Alexis Smith and Wayne Morris. Willie's character in the second film has much in common with his character in the first film, however, I was rooting for him when he told Wayne Morris he was his associate and not his private secretary. All around a great night of comedy and haunted houses featuring Willie Best.

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I saw this film for the first time last night, and I agree with your comments regarding Ghost Breakers (1940) standing in the comedy/horror genre: this is one of the better films I've seen. I am a huge fan of Paulette Goddard, try to watch anything in which she had a role, but I never warmed to Bob Hope. This film changed my mind regarding Hope's appeal, but I was particularly impressed with Willie Best. I was pre-occupied during The Old Dark House (1963), but made sure I saw The Smiling Ghost (1941) with Willie, Alexis Smith and Wayne Morris. Willie's character in the second film has much in common with his character in the first film, however, I was rooting for him when he told Wayne Morris he was his associate and not his private secretary. All around a great night of comedy and haunted houses featuring Willie Best.

Glad you enjoyed your first viewing of Ghost Breakers, whistlingypsy.

 

This was made in Hope's earlier days when he was a more dapper comedian, and was also skillful enough to be convincing as a love interest for someone as lovely as Paulette Goddard. (The two really have a special chemistry in this film, I think).

 

But the film also gave Willie Best the opportunity to really shine as a comedian. I think Ghost Breakers shows that, with the right opportunity (and he didn't get that many of them), he was clearly an underrated talent.

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People tend to forget about the more dapper Bob Hope that he was at the beginning of his career. Ghost Breakers, even though it gave Hope that chance to play frightened (a Hope specialty) still showed him off as a convincing leading man for Paulette Goddard.

 

This is the last film that he made before he jettisoned that more dapper image. Heck, even when he was investigating a spooky, cob webby castle in this film he was immaculately attired:

 

images6_zpsf38d2f86.jpg

 

I think that one of the best scenes that Hope and Goddard shared in GB was in the cabin room of the ship when they briefly danced together making witty observations while pretending to be high society types. There's a certain sophistication to the humour in this scene that you wouldn't see in many, if any, of Hope's subsequent efforts with a leading lady.

 

Hope's very next film after Ghost Breakers would be Road to Zanzibar, the second of his popular series with Crosby. At one point, as an illustration of its type of "crazy" humour, he would be shot out of a canon at a carnival. Later he would wrestle with a gorilla.

 

hope91_zps9d215150.jpg

 

This is the more zany Bob Hope of the '40s that is better remembered today. His dapper days of Ghost Breakers really died with Road to Zanzibar.

 

But my point is that he's still very good in Ghost Breakers before his material turned more archaic at times and a bit crazy (a lot more mugging), with the Bob Hope persona of the '40s that is largely remembered today becoming firmly entrenched.

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People tend to forget about the more dapper Bob Hope that he was at the beginning of his career. Ghost Breakers, even though it gave Hope that chance to play frightened (a Hope specialty) still showed him off as a convincing leading man for Paulette Goddard.

 

This is the last film that he made before he jettisoned that more dapper image. Heck, even when he was investigating a spooky, cob webby castle in this film he was immaculately attired:

 

images6_zpsf38d2f86.jpg

 

I think that one of the best scenes that Hope and Goddard shared in GB was in the cabin room of the ship when they briefly danced together making witty observations while pretending to be high society types. There's a certain sophistication to the humour in this scene that you wouldn't see in many, if any, of Hope's subsequent efforts with a leading lady.

 

Hope's very next film after Ghost Breakers would be Road to Zanzibar, the second of his popular series with Crosby. At one point, as an illustration of its type of "crazy" humour, he would be shot out of a canon at a carnival. Later he would wrestle with a gorilla.

 

 

Nice write up here, Tom. However, I'm a bit surprised while talking about "Bob's earlier and more dapper and less zany days", you didn't also bring up the following film, THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1938, and how Bob would get his career "theme song"...

 

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Nice write up here, Tom. However, I'm a bit surprised while talking about "Bob's earlier and more dapper and less zany days", you didn't also bring up the following film, THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1938, and how Bob would get his career "theme song"...

Thanks, Dargo.

 

Well, Big Broadcast of 1938 was, of course, Hope's film debut and he did start his career as quite the smoothie with the ladies (in particular, Shirley Ross) in this film, that continuing until Ghost Breakers.

 

I don't believe that Hope and W. C. Fields (he at the end of his Paramount contract just as Bob was at the beginning of his) shared any scenes together in the film. And that's a shame.

 

Hope and Fields both had a vaudeville background but that's where the similarity between the two as comedians pretty much ends. Fields makes me think a bit of Rodney Dangerfield inasmuch as both comics give the impression that they had experienced a lot of pain in their lives so what else can you do but laugh about it. You never have that impression with Hope who was, unlike the other two, actually good enough looking (later ski slope nose jokes aside) to be a leading man comedian for a while.

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I've always liked Willie Best's ghost type films because the way he looks when he is frightened is exactly the way I feel when frightened.

 

I was watching one of the ghost and old dark house films later that evening, when all my power went out and was out for two hours. With no lights at all, until I eventually found a flashlight, I felt exactly like Willie Best in his haunted house films. :)

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I've always liked Willie Best's ghost type films because the way he looks when he is frightened is exactly the way I feel when frightened.

 

I was watching one of the ghost and old dark house films later that evening, when all my power went out and was out for two hours. With no lights at all, until I eventually found a flashlight, I felt exactly like Willie Best in his haunted house films. :)

 

I find Best to be funny but most of these ghost films are poor quality films.    e.g. The Smiling Ghost (1941) with Alexis Smith, Brenda Marshall, Alan Hale and Lee Patrick;   even this WB production was weak.   (but Alexis did look wonderful).  

 

Best was about the best thing in this movie.        As for ever feeling like Best;  Well since I don't believe in ghost and I live in a good area I'm never frightened when the lights go out.  

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   As for ever feeling like Best;  Well since I don't believe in ghost and I live in a good area I'm never frightened when the lights go out.  

 

I don't believe in ghosts either...... until all my lights go out late at night while I'm watching a ghost movie on TV. :)

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Tom, you say there was a zombie in this picture.  Funny, I don't  recall seeing any zombie, Guess I'll have to watch the picture again, and maybe I'll listen for some of Hope's gag lines. ;)

If Bob Hope and Noble Johnson (the zombie) were still around to read that comment, mrroberts, they would probably want you to apauletteogize for missing their contributions to the film.

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For anyone who is interested, another scary yet funny gem, The Cat and the Canary (1939-Elliot Nugent) with Bob Hope & Paulette Goddard, is scheduled to air on TCM on Tues., Nov. 4th at 8pm (ET). The supporting cast, including Gale Sondergaard, George Zucco, Douglass Montgomery, John Beal, and Elizabeth Patterson, among others, is first rate and the production values are even more sleekly beautiful (with Charles Lang as cinematographer)--giving the black and white movie that distinctive Paramount shimmer.

 

I believe it may be a TCM premiere of a relatively forgotten, but delightful Paramount film from Hope's best period in film. I actually relish Bob Hope's performance as a motormouth actor in this movie. He even breaks the fourth wall in a sneaky way, commenting indirectly on the cliches that abound and making them funnier as he becomes more afraid of the events surrounding him. 

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For anyone who is interested, another scary yet funny gem, The Cat and the Canary (1939-Elliot Nugent) with Bob Hope & Paulette Goddard, is scheduled to air on TCM on Tues., Nov. 4th at 8pm (ET). The supporting cast, including Gale Sondergaard, George Zucco, Douglass Montgomery, John Beal, and Elizabeth Patterson, among others, is first rate and the production values are even more sleekly beautiful (with Charles Lang as cinematographer)--giving the black and white movie that distinctive Paramount shimmer.

 

I believe it may be a TCM premiere of a relatively forgotten, but delightful Paramount film from Hope's best period in film. I actually relish Bob Hope's performance as a motormouth actor in this movie. He even breaks the fourth wall in a sneaky way, commenting indirectly on the cliches that abound and making them funnier as he becomes more afraid of the events surrounding him.

Thanks very much for that TCM air date notification, Moira.

 

The Cat and the Canary is a terrific film, with another wonderful pairing of Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. It's success lead to the two stars being reunited in Ghost Breakers.

 

And "Cat" has a hair-raising climax, as good as any film from the "old dark house" genre.

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