Hold That Ghost

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Hold That Ghost
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Arthur Lubin
Produced by Burt Kelly
Glenn Tryon
Written by Robert Lees
Fred Rinaldo
John Grant
Starring Bud Abbott
Lou Costello
Richard Carlson
Joan Davis
Evelyn Ankers
Shemp Howard
The Andrews Sisters
Music by H.J. Salter
Edited by Philip Cahn
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date
  • August 6, 1941 (1941-08-06)
Running time
85 min
Country United States
Language English
Budget over $400,000[1]

Hold That Ghost is a 1941 horror comedy film starring the comedy team of Abbott and Costello and featuring Joan Davis, Evelyn Ankers and Richard Carlson. On August 1, 1941, Abbott and Costello performed a live version of the film for radio audiences on Louella Parsons' Hollywood Premiere.


Chuck Murray (Bud Abbott) and Ferdie Jones (Lou Costello), gas station attendants, aspire to better jobs waiting tables at Chez Glamour, a high-class nightclub, where Ted Lewis and The Andrews Sisters perform. However, Chuck and Ferdie cause a ruckus and the snooty maitre d' (Mischa Auer) fires them. Back at the gas station, gangster "Moose" Mattson (William B. Davidson) brings his car in for gas. When he is spotted by the police, he speeds off with Chuck and Ferdie caught inside the vehicle. During the chase Matson exchanges shots with the police and is killed. Chuck and Ferdie learn from the gangster's attorney that through a strange clause in his will, which states that whoever was with him when he died will inherit his estate, the boys now own Mattson's rundown tavern, the Forrester's Club. Mattson had also given a cryptic clue about a hidden stash of money, stating that he "kept his money in his head," but its existence and location remained a mystery.

Mattson's attorney introduces the boys to an associate, Charlie Smith, who will accompany the boys to the rural property in a wildcat bus. The boys are unaware that Smith (Marc Lawrence) is a member of Moose's gang and is after the money. The unscrupulous bus driver, however, abandons them and three unrelated passengers--a doctor (Richard Carlson), a radio actress (Joan Davis) and a waitress (Evelyn Ankers)--at the club during a heavy rainstorm.

As the night progresses, strange things happen. Smith disappears while searching the basement, and his corpse turns up unexpectedly several times. The water in the tavern is undrinkable. Ferdie's bedroom turns out to be rigged with hidden gambling equipment. The girls are scared by what appears to be a ghost. Two detectives show up but vanish soon after starting their investigation. Chuck and the doctor decide to search for the detectives while Ferdie examines a map to find the quickest route back to town. However, the candles on the table move mysteriously and scare Ferdie.

Ferdie eventually finds Moose's treasure hidden inside the stuffed moose head over the fireplace. Members of the gang appear and demand the money, leading to a chase through the building. Ferdie scares them off by making the sound of a police siren. The doctor announces that the water they drank last night has therapeutic properties, and Ferdie and Chuck transform the club into a health resort. The boys hire Ted Lewis and The Andrews Sisters to headline, and the maitre d' who fired them from Chez Glamour turns up as a waiter.


Actor Role
Bud Abbott Chuck Murray
Lou Costello Ferdinand Jones
Richard Carlson Dr. Jackson
Joan Davis Camille Brewster
Evelyn Ankers Norma Lind
Marc Lawrence Charlie Smith
Mischa Auer Gregory
Shemp Howard Soda Jerk
Russell Hicks Bannister (Matson's attorney)
William B. Davidson Moose Matson
Ted Lewis and his Orchestra Themselves
The Andrews Sisters Themselves
Milton Parsons Bus Driver
Harry Hayden Jenkins
Paul Fix Lefty


Hold that Ghost (working title: Oh, Charlie) was made immediately after Buck Privates, from January 21 through February 24, 1941, on a budget of $190,000. The original screenplay opened with Chuck and Ferdie working at their gas station and featured many scenes of Mattson's gang planning and trying to scare the boys out of the tavern.[2] At the climax, another faction of Mattson's gang arrives and the rival gangsters fight over the loot, which turns out to be counterfeit. Chuck and Ferdie are still able to open a resort based on the therapeutic properties of the well water.[3]

While the film was finishing production, Buck Privates became one of Universal's all-time biggest hits. Oh, Charlie's release was delayed so that the studio could hastily make and release a second Abbott and Costello service comedy, In the Navy.[4] Universal then put Oh, Charlie back into production in mid-May, 1941, to append the opening and closing of the film with musical numbers by the Andrews Sisters (who appeared in both service comedies) and bandleader Ted Lewis. New scenes were written and others were re-shot for continuity purposes. These revisions were written primarily by Edmund L. Hartmann without credit.[5] Upgrading Oh, Charlie cost anywhere from $25,000 to $150,000 according to different studio sources.[6] In June 1941 the picture was retitled Hold That Ghost.[7]

A 30-minute radio adaptation was performed by Abbott and Costello on Louella Parsons' program, Hollywood Premiere, one week before the film was released.[8]


Upon the film's release it received almost unanimously positive reviews. The Motion Picture Herald reported, "Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, they’ve done it again. In fact by count and with witnesses, the Messrs. Abbott and Costello got more, louder and longer laughs in ‘Hold That Ghost’ at its Hollywood preview than they did in ‘Buck Privates’ or ‘In the Navy.’ Veritably, it is to be doubted if any two comedians ever got so many laughs in one picture any time, anywhere."[9] The Hollywood Reporter added, "[T]he laughs come so fast and furious that a great many lines are entirely drowned out. At one point, about half the audience was saying ‘Sh’ to the other half."[10] Motion Picture Daily called it "by far the corniest comedy the Abbott and Costello duo has committed, but don’t get me wrong—for 'corniest' is, in this case, a synonym for best. [11] Variety called the picture "a slam-bang and knockabout comedy, silly and ridiculous, but a laugh-creator and audience-pleaser.”[12]

Critics did complain about the superfluous musical numbers. The Philadelphia Inquirer was typical: “…Universal dusted off Ted Lewis and the Andrews Sisters, inserting them in nightclub sequences fore and aft to add a bit of ‘name’ value. For our money…they only pad out the picture…”[13] The New York Times considered the film "immensely funny" but also criticized its musical numbers and, as a result, its length.

The film continues to receive favorable reviews. Over 2700 IMDB contributors give it a rating of 7.6/10. Rotten Tomatoes reports that 100% of critics gave the film positive write-ups based on six reviews, and 90% of 780 users liked it, with an average rating of 4.2/5.[14] Film critic Leonard Maltin gave the film three out of four stars and noted it as "Prime A&C."[15]Allmovie contributor Hal Erickson gave the film three out of a possible five stars and stated that the "moving candle" scene might be "Costello's funniest-ever screen scene."[16] Abbott and Costello biographer Jim Mulholland has described it as the "team's best film next to Buck Privates."


Hold that Ghost was re-released in theaters twice, in 1948 and 1949, along with Hit the Ice.[4]

Home media[edit]

This film has been released three times on VHS. Originally released in 1982 on VHS and Beta, it was re-released on VHS in 1988 and again in 1991.

This film has been released twice on DVD. The first time, on The Best of Abbott and Costello Volume One, on February 10, 2004, and again on October 28, 2008 as part of Abbott and Costello: The Complete Universal Pictures Collection.


  1. ^ Furmanek p 57-59
  2. ^ Palumbo, Ron (2018). Hold That Ghost: The Original Shooting Script MagicImage Filmscript Series. ISBN 978-1-629-33300-7
  3. ^ "Palumbo; 2018"
  4. ^ a b Furmanek, Bob and Ron Palumbo (1991). Abbott and Costello in Hollywood. New York: Perigee Books. ISBN 0-399-51605-0
  5. ^ "Palumbo; 2018"
  6. ^ "Palumbo; 2018"
  7. ^ "Palumbo; 2018"
  8. ^ "Palumbo; 2018"
  9. ^ "Palumbo; 2018"
  10. ^ "Palumbo; 2018"
  11. ^ "Palumbo; 2018"
  12. ^ "Palumbo; 2018"
  13. ^ "Palumbo; 2018"
  14. ^ "Hold That Ghost (Oh, Charlie) Movie Reviews, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 7 July 2017. 
  15. ^ Maltin, Leonard. Leonard Maltin's 2009 Movie Guide. Penguin Books. p. 617. ISBN 978-0-452-28978-9. 
  16. ^ Erickson, Hal. "Hold That Ghost > Overview - Allmovie". Allmovie. Retrieved 11 January 2010. 

External links[edit]