The Ghost Breakers (1940) – reviewed by George

A suspense-adventure with comedy, this stars Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, and Willie Best. They play Larry Lawrence, Mary Carter, and Larry’s valet Alex, respectively. Larry has a radio show where he tells the news of the mobs in New York City, mostly supplied by one particular boss, and all with no danger to Larry, since it’s usually penny-ante stuff. Then he gets a story he thinks is from his buddy, but it’s about his buddy, and Larry gets marked for a rub-out. At the same time Mary Carter is signing papers confirming her acceptance of an inheritance: Castillo Maldito on Black Island off the coast of Cuba. Señor Parada (Paul Lukas) is appearing to help, but is also telling her to sell it unseen to a buyer he has lined up for her, so she does not have to risk her life and go there. They are having a blackout in NYC and he says, “You’ll have to get used to candles, Miss Carter. There’s no electricity on Black Island. The castle today is exactly as your great-great-grandfather built it.” Mary cracks, “You mean the ghosts have to find their way around in the dark?” Señor Havez (Pedro De Cardoba), a member of the Cuban Consulate, says that he knows he should present the island as a paradise, “But privately, Miss Carter, I advise you to stay away from Black Island.. All I know is that during the last 20 years, no human being who has tried to spend a night in Castillo Maldito ever lives to see a sunrise.” Mary’s retort, with a big smile, is “I bet I will.”
In the hallway outside Mary’s hotel room, Ramon Mederos (Anthony Quinn) is murdered, but his billing is too good for such a quick exit, so we know a twin will show up at some point. And in a Havana nightclub the character actor Lloyd Corrigan pops up several times, looking and acting very suspicious, so we know he is involved in Mary’s planned murder. So much for movie conventions: sometimes we see through them, and sometimes we get fooled (one of the above is not true).
In that same nightclub, Geoff Montgomery (Richard Carlson) shows up, and he and Mary are attracted (she met him first on the boat), and now he becomes Larry’s full-fledged competitor for Mary’s affections.
Interesting and unexpected: both Hope and Best made good livings playing cowards, but in this film each one rises to the occasion and shows some bravery. Oh, not before they have chickened out a few times, but they do come through.
There is a fair amount of humor here, but some of it is embarrassing. Race relations were still pretty much in the Dark Ages, and that’s reflected in some of the jokes. And there’s a joke about Democrats that I just didn’t get. I know Roosevelt was in the White House then, but I couldn’t figure out the reference. Anyway, the film is, overall, not without some virtues, so if you can see it as the relic it is, maybe you can get a laugh or two out of it. I laughed out loud several times (and groaned a few times too).
Screen Play by Walter DeLeon, Based on a Play by Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard, and Directed by George Marshall.

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