The Ghost Breakers (1940)

Directed by George Marshall

To be honest, I picked up The Ghost Breakers to jog my memory. I recalled seeing it when I was very young and wanted to see, 1) if it actually was the movie I thought it was and, 2) if it was good or just a fond memory.

Well, it was both. In the first instance, though, while it was the film I remembered it turns out there was a lot I forgot. I had remembered a scary movie with ghosts and zombies. The movie is actually a funny comedy with only a relatively small portion of it spent on the haunted island.

It follows the Bob Hope formula of him playing a kind of hustler who gets himself into trouble with his schemes.

Bob Hope gets the willies as he wanders through a scary house.

As with the Road Movies, where he’s teamed with Bing Crosby, he’s not alone here. In this case, his comedic partner is Willie Best, who is incredibly funny. But …

It’s a bit uncomfortable for a contemporary audience because Best is playing a man-servant type character. This would be fine, but being Afro-American and the film having been made in 1940, his role is very much a Hollywood stereotype of black Americans. There are a lot of wide-eyed looks and, “Yezz boss …,” kinds of lines.

The problem is that while finding the characterization somewhat offensive, Best does it so well he’s wildly funny. He really is one of the best parts of the movie. But you find yourself embarrassed at laughing at the portrayal.

There is even romance of a sort in The Ghost Breakers (Paulette Goddard and Bob Hope).

As for Hope, he’s very funny too with his wise-cracks and some of the physical humour. And, as always with the Hope films, there’s the romantic aspect, played by Paulette Goddard. She, too, is very good and works well with Hope.

I really do enjoy these Bob Hope movies, of which The Ghost Breakers is a great example. (It even has a young Anthony Quinn.) I think the key to them is their quickness. They are peppered with one-liners, physical jokes, and relatively quickly moving scenes. It’s the pacing, the result of performance and editing, that allows them to excel as wonderful comedies.

The Ghost Breakers is light nonsense. But it is thoroughly enjoyable.

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