Michael Mapel: Movie Reviews- Hold That Ghost

Chuck Murray (Bud Abbott) and Ferdie Jones (Lou Costello) work at a gas station. However, they long to improve their lives by moving up to waiting tables at Chez Glamour, a high-class nightclub. Opportunity comes their way and they find themselves working there, however on their first night they cause a disturbance and wind up working back at the gas station again, when a gangster, Moose Mattson (William Davidson) brings his car in for servicing. They are in the vehicle when the gangster gets in it to try to escape the police. During the chase, Moose is killed. According to the terms of Mattson's will, whosoever is present when "the coppers dim my lights for the last time" will inherit his estate, which consists of a deserted mansion in the middle of nowhere. Naturally, Chuck and Ferdie inherit his tavern.

Crooked attorney, Mr. Bannister (Russell Hicks), knows that Mattson has hidden hundreds of thousands of dollars somewhere in his mansion. He dispatches sinister Charlie Smith, (unbeknownst to everyone, is a member's of the dead gangster's gang), with instructions to "take care" of the trusting boys once they've arrived. Charlie (Marc Lawrence) charters a bus and takes Chuck and Ferdie out to the mansion; also on board, going off to various other destinations, are handsome Dr. Jackson (Richard Carlson), lovely Norma Lind (Evelyn Ankers) and professional radio screamer Camille Brewster (Joan Davis). Charlie abandons them and the other passengers there and takes off with everyone's luggage. As the night wears on, strange things begin to happen, and the tavern appears to be haunted. Charlie returns unseen, is promptly murdered by parties unknown, and throughout the rest of the film, his body pops up at the most inopportune moments, reducing the already tremulous Costello to a quivering mass of jello. More gangsters arrive looking for the money and they try to scare off the guests, but eventually fail.

Moose always claimed that he kept his money "in his head." Ferdie eventually figures it out and finds the money hidden in the head of a stuffed moose. Ferdie and Chuck use it to transform the mansion into a health resort where they hire Ted Lewis and His Orchestra along with The Andrews Sisters to headline.

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One of Universal's most lucrative properties in the 1940s was the comedy team of Abbott and Costello, the epitome of the straight man/funny man team-up. Surprisingly, this team has withstood the test of time as easily as Laurel and Hardy, The Marx Brothers, The Three Stooges and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

Lou Costello was a vaudeville performer, and their dubious partnership began when Costello's original partner became ill and he recruited a reluctant theater cashier -- Bud Abbott -- to join him on stage. They performed on stage and in radio for a decade before breaking into films in 1940 and made nearly 40 films together before the duo broke up. Costello made one solo film, “The 30 Foot Bride Of Candy Rock”, before dying of a heart attack in 1959 at age 53. Abbott lived until 1974 but never appeared in films again. In 1941 when this was made, Abbott and Costello were at the top of their game.

The plot in “Hold That Ghost” is merely an excuse to showcase Abbott and Costello's superbly timed cross-talking routines, a riotous impromptu dance performed by Costello and Joan Davis, and, of course, the legendary "moving candle" bit, which may well be Davis and Costello's funniest-ever screen scene. Joan Davis was tall and lanky, with a comically flat speaking voice that was fast with a quip. She became known as one of the few female physical clowns of her time and had a reputation for flawless physical comedy. When “I Love Lucy” premiered in October 1951 on CBS Television and became a top-rated TV series, sponsors wanted more of the same with another actress who wasn't afraid of strenuous physical comedy. “I Married Joan” premiered in 1952 on NBC, casting Davis as the manic wife of a mild-mannered community judge (Jim Backus) who got her husband into wacky jams with or without the help of a younger sister, played by her real-life daughter, Beverly Wills. The series continued until 1955. Davis died of a heart attack at the age of 53 in 1961.

Richard Carlson is best known to movie fans as an icon of '50 Sci-Fi/Horror. His most popular being “It came from Outer Space” and “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”.

Evelyn Ankers was a beautiful movie actress who was a staple of Universal's horror films in the 1940s. She made her Universal debut with "Hold That Ghost" before appearing in the horror film classic "The Wolf Man" opposite Lon Chaney, Jr. Ankers found herself typecast into the horror picture genre, appearing in three more Chaney films, "The Ghost of Frankenstein", "Son Of Dracula" and "The Frozen Ghost". She was also in "The Invisible Man's Revenge" with Jon Hall and with Basil Rathbone in Sherlock Holmes’ "The Voice of Terror" and "The Pearl of Death”. And look for a cameo by a pre-Three Stooges, Shemp Howard, as the Soda Jerk.

“Hold that Ghost” was filmed under the working title “Oh Charlie”. Although the film was made prior to “In the Navy”, its release was delayed so that Universal could release another Abbott and Costello service-themed film to follow “Buck Privates”.

If you love Abbott and Costello like I do, there is a great book that I highly recommend called The Horror Spoofs of Abbott & Costello. In it, author Jeffrey Miller takes a look at the horror comedies the team did, with a particular focus on horror spoofs involving classic monsters. Miller provides a complete cast and credit list along with a very lengthy and detailed synopsis of each film including many of the notable lines, gags, and scenes. It also includes comments taken from cast and crew of the day and recent comments from the likes of Sara Karloff, Bela Lugosi Jr., and Paddy Costello, who were on the set of these films as children. Miller also includes information on critical reviews of the day, box office results, as well as adding his own insightful analysis of the films.

Miller's research into these films is outstanding and while I'm a big fan, there were a lot of new things I learned. While very detailed, it's never dry and Miller does a wonderful job at conveying the great routines of Abbott & Costello. Just beware - if you have somehow never seen these films, the plot is fully described from beginning to end. By all means see the films and then pickup this book. It’s a must for all Abbott and Costello fans!