Bob Hope - Larry Lawrence
Paulette Goddard - Mary Carter
Richard Carlson - Geoff Montgomery
Paul Lukas - Parada
Willie Best - Alex
Anthony Quinn - Mederos twins
George Marshall - Director
Arthur Hornblow Jr. - Producer
Walter de Leon - Screenwriter
Theodore Sparkuhl - Screenwriter
Charles Lang - Cinematographer
Ernst Toch - Film Score
This remake of the Paul Dickey-Charles W. Goddard play, first filmed as The Ghost Breaker (1922), was designed to cash in on the success of The Cat and the Canary (1939). That film began in the middle with its old-dark-house setting, this follow-up takes rather longer to get going. Ditching the Kentucky family feud motif from The Ghost Breaker, it has Bob Hope and his black servant Best, soon matching quips for the role as first coward--"If two men come down, let the first one go, that'll be me"--making their escape from importunate gangsters.
The plot has Hope as Larry Lawrence, a radio star who has made his reputation as a muckraker. Fleeing from a murder in a hotel he ends up in the trunk of Mary Carter (Paulette Goddard) who is on her way to Cuba, where she has inherited the haunted Black Island and its haunted Castillo Maldito. Once on the island, Mary runs into Parada (Paul Lukas), her old friend Geoff Montgomery (Richard Carlson), and the scheming Mederos twins played by Anthony Quinn. Meanwhile, at the castle awaiting Larry and Mary are the Mother Zombie (Virginia Brissac) and her giant zombie son (Noble Johnson, who was the native chief in the original King Kong). Larry and his trusted valet Alex (Willie Best) go ahead to the castle to make sure everything is safe for Mary.
But once they are in Cuba and inveigled into accompanying Goddard to the haunted castle she has inherited, the temperature is considerably chillier than it was in The Cat and the Canary. The wisecracks keep flowing ("Basil Rathbone must be throwing a party," Hope remarks as a thunderstorm greets their arrival), but there is genuine menace in the zombie lurking in a tumbledown shack by the fog-laden pier, and real flair in scenes like the discovery of Lukas's body sinisterly laid out in a coffin. This is probably Hope's best film. In 1953 Paramount retooled The Ghost Breakers to fit the talents of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and the result was Scared Stiff (also directed by George Marshall) with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby popping up for an uncredited guest appearance.
--PHIL HARDY, ed. from The Encyclopedia of
Horror Films, 1986
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