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Universal Studios Home Video presents
The Ghost Breakers (1940)

"If there's going to be any hysterics here, I'll have them."
- Larry Lawrence (Bob Hope)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: March 06, 2002

Stars: Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard
Other Stars: Richard Carlson, Raul Lukas, Anthony Quinn, Willie Best
Director: George Marshall

Manufacturer: Panasonic Disc Services Corp.
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (racially stereotypical humor, violence)
Run Time: 01h:24m:45s
Release Date: March 05, 2002
UPC: 025192121326
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B CBC+ C+

DVD Review

The Ghost Breakers is generally considered to be the best of the Bob Hope vehicles. Teamed with the charming Paulette Goddard, Hope manages get some laughs here, despite a thoroughly predictable script.

Radio commentator Larry Lawrence (Hope) is implicated in a murder that he didn't commit, and he hides in the steamer trunk of Mary Carter (Goddard). What he doesn't know is that she and the trunk are bound for Cuba, where she has inherited a haunted castle, Castillo Maldito. Mysterious offers to purchase the castle are followed in quick succession by threatening letters and voodoo curses. It's up to Hope and his long-suffering manservant Alex (Willie Best) to unmask the ghosts before they end up as zombies themselves.

There are quite a few laughs in this picture, but they tend to be rather dated. The best gags require knowledge of Sally Rand and acquaintance with the fact that Vassar was once a women's college. Knowing who the heck H.V. Kaltenborn was wouldn't hurt either. Most viewers today are going to just be mystified by many of these gags, which is a pity, but such is the nature of comedy. Hope's timing is impeccable, and as usual he is the butt of many of the gags. Many of the best lines go to the rest of the cast.

Goddard makes for a highly appealing heroine, and a very young Anthony Quinn makes an appearance as the murder victim and his twin brother. The main problem is that the story was old and creaky even back in the 1940s; it had already been made into silent films twice by Paramount. The script takes far too long to get to the haunted house and once it gets there doesn't have the energy of the many 3 Stooges shorts that use similar conceits. The picture is notable as one of the earlier pictures to take the notion of zombies quite seriously, and definitely the first mainstream film to do so. Noble Johnson plays the principal zombie, and he does make for a quite terrifying figure, lending the picture what little frightening quality it does have.

The Ghost Breakers was made in less sensitive times, and the depictions of the black characters, notably Alex, suffer from stereotypically exaggerated reactions. It's not as offensive as many relics from this period, but some caution is in order for younger or more sensitive viewers.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The full-frame transfer looks pretty good overall. The black levels are fairly deep, and there is quite good detail. Grain is fairly heavy, however, and the first reel suffers from quite heavy speckling. Farther in, however, the picture is practically pristine. The grayscale has a quite nice large range, making the black and white picture quite attractive overall. The moody photography comes across nicely.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 English mono is plagued by significant hiss and crackling throughout. The dialogue comes through most of the time, though Tom Dugan as 'Raspy' Smith can be difficult to understand. The music sounds decent for 1940s era recording.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Scanavo
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:58m:14s

Extra Extras:
  1. Hollywood Victory Canteen shortPhoto gallery
  2. Photo gallery
Extras Review: Universal provides a decent array of extras, though few of them are directly related to the film. The trailer is actually a good deal funnier than the picture itself. About three dozen stills are set to the title music, along with two lobby cards and some behind-the-scenes and gag shots. A four-screen set of production notes seems a bit skimpy and surely more could have been provided here. The usual one or two-screen bios and filmographies round out the part of the extras related to the picture; there is also some DVD-ROM material but that was not reviewed.

On a more generic level, a featurette (5m:30s) on Hope's career entertaining the troops is included; this contains a fair amount of vintage footage, plus recent interview material with Phyllis Diller. A Command Performance short that's been cut to ribbons basically just shows us the segments where Hope introduces the stars (Betty Hutton, Lana Turner and Judy Garland) and trims out their performances almost entirely. Finally, a two-reel short from the closing days of World War II, featuring Hope and many of the biggest Hollywood stars, is the final extra. While this is interesting for purposes of seeing the stars out of character, and for its historical significance, it doesn't have much in the way of entertainment value.

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

An okay horror-comedy, with some good moments. The strengths are the leads, who do a fine job with the material. The transfer is acceptable, but don't expect a crisp restoration. A few decent extras are also in the mix.

 


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