Hope, Goddard and Ghosts – The Ghost Breakers (1940)

Mary, played by Paulette Goddard, is making plans to head down to Cuba as she has just inherited a castle.  Hope plays Lawrence Lawrence Lawrence, a radio personality who has the scoop on all the gangsters in the city and when he makes a report that one of them finds insulting, Lawrence is called up to meet him which just happens to be in the same hotel where Mary is staying.  Heading over he gets frightened when someone is murdered and thinks that he accidentally did the murdering.  At the same time, there also seems to be an unusual amount of interest in the castle Goddard has just come into.  Hiding out in Goddard’s trunk from the police, Hope ends up taking the trip to Cuba with her.  Along the way, they of course start to have feelings for one another and arriving at their destination, start to explore the castle to see what everyone is so interested in finding.

The film turned out to be a great blend of comedy, romance, action and a wee smattering of horror elements.  The movie is a perfect example of the blending of genres, with the horror taking a backseat to the laughs, and being used almost as a set-piece more than anything else.  The ghosts, the zombies and the castle were there to just seemingly further the story along and get the two main characters to end up together in the end, much like many a film did in early cinema.

The castle where the latter half of the film took place was done up really well and had that eerie and abandoned look that the move called for.  It was dark and shadowy with the essential cobwebs, suits of armour, old-fashioned paintings, a broken organ and personal tomb for that added touch of the macabre.  The makeup on the zombie was well done though the special effects for the ghost left a little to be desired, but was serviceable to get the point across.  The best part about all of it was seeing our cast of characters selling the scares, and they did so admirably.

Anything with Bob Hope can be counted on for a good time and The Ghost Breakers is no exception.  The man is funny in any format, whether it be movies, radio, television or print and you can always be assured of at least a few laughs.  The one-liners and quick retorts come fast and furious in this film with Hope on his A-game.  And though he is quite humourous on his own, he is even funnier when he is paired up with someone so he can play off of them and have the zingers come twice as fast.

Paulette Goddard, the female lead of the film, is perfect playing opposite Hope.  She is quick-witted and funny herself, not to mention gorgeous and can give as good as she gets during the movie.  She may have never been in any major pictures during her life, though The Women and The Cat and the Canary with Hope come to mind, but she was always a solid actress and this film is a showcase to that talent.

Other notable characters in the film include an early role for Anthony Quinn playing twins and Willie Best as Alex, Bob Hope’s manservant in the film.  Best is hilarious when he is in the haunted castle, trying to avoid the ghosts and trying to fight the zombie.  Richard Carlson and Paul Lukas also had small parts and were pretty good themselves, though they had to play the straight man roles that the film needed as not everyone could play the comedian.

Written by Walter DeLeon and directed by George Marshall they ended up providing a great little picture that was again, quite funny.  Perhaps not rolling on the floor funny, but it was wry and witty and made you smile, chuckle, smirk and even laugh out loud just a little at times.  The Ghost Breakers is definitely one of the better Bob Hope vehicles sitting right alongside the Seven Little Foys and the Road films.  One to watch for sure.

4.5 out of 5

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