Mary Carter inherits her family's ancestral home, located on a small island off Cuba, and, despite warnings and death threats, decides to take possession of the reputedly haunted castle. She is joined by radio broadcaster Larry Lawrence who, believing he has killed a mob gunman, flees New York with his butler, Alex. Once on the island the threesome enter the eerie castle and after viewing the ghost of one of Mary's ancestors and fighting off a menacing zombie, they find the key to the castle's treasure but are interrupted by an all-too-human foe. Written by
Doug Sederberg <email@example.com>
Comic Hope investigates a haunted island off the coast of Cuba
Many movie fans who were raised seeing Bob Hope strictly in the slightly depressing films he made during the 1960s and his periodic TV specials may be surprised to learn that in the 1940s he was one of the best "fast patter' comedians working on the radio and in films. Generally playing a coward who still managed to come up on top in circumstances over which he had no control, the comic starred in a number of successful films.
I admittedly have a preference for "old dark house" mysteries, and I spent years trying to catch up on this one. The only version of the script which had been readily available through the 1970s was the Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis remake, SCARED STIFF, which used the basic premise but altered some of the gags and inserted musical numbers.
The action opens in New York City where Lawrence "Larry" Lawrence (Hope) is preparing for a radio broadcast as the city is hit by a storm-created blackout. Larry broadcasts gossip which includes, with tacit approval from the mob, news on some of the local crime kingpins. Unfortunately, his latest broadcast annoys Frenchy Duval (Paul Fix), and Larry is invited over for a few straight facts.
In the meantime, one of Larry's listeners is conferring with a lawyer who informs her she's inherited an island off the Cuban Coast. Mary Carter (Paulette Goddard) is thrilled at the news and makes plans to sail at once, in spite of the island's grim reputation as a hotspot for ghosts and worse. Fending off an offer from an unnamed third party to buy the island, she starts packing.
Larry arrives at Duval's hotel, which happens to also be the one where the heiress is staying. Suspecting he's in for more trouble than he can handle (i.e., any at all), Larry borrows a gun from his servant Alex (Willie Best). When a mysterious stranger is shot at the hotel, Lawrence panics --- assuming he killed the man -- and ends up in Mary's room. The police arrive and she offers him refuge.
Picking her trunk as his hiding place, Larry winds up aboard her cruise ship. Spotting a death threat that had been delivered to her stateroom, he decides that he and Alex will stay and protect her.
En route to Cuba, they encounter Geoff Montgomery (Richard Carlson, starting his move away from playing college-aged characters), with whom Mary's tokenly acquainted. He offers to play guide once they arrive in Havana.
Mary vanishes from a nightclub, heading out to heck out the island by night. Larry and a reluctant Alex hire a rowboat and also make for the isle. Arriving, they briefly examine the hut of a local woman with a "zombie son" (Noble Johnson in a fairly creepy, deadpan performance) and proceed on to the bay haunted castle.
It quickly becomes obvious that there's someone else on the island. Alex and Larry have a run-in with a real ghost and the zombie son. Mary arrives and, her clothing torn, puts on a dress once owned by an ancestor for which she's a deal not so dead ringer. This confuses the zombie long enough for them to lock him away.
Investigating the cellars, Larry and Mary find her lawyer in one of the coffins. He'd been attacked by the mysterious individual who had wanted to purchase the island. He dies before he can reveal the killer -- only giving a cryptic clue. This turns out to be a hint at a fabulous treasure hidden underneath the castle.
The killer makes himself known, but is dispatched before he can eliminate the witnesses.
A fun little outing, and a decent example of one of the fairly early sound "old house" mysteries. These films were popular in the silent era, generally pitting one or more characters against an unknown killer in a rambling, storm-tossed mansion. Hope and Goddard had also starred in a sound remake of one of the better known of these creakers, THE CAT AND THE CANARY.
GHOST BREAKERS is well worth renting.
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