The Ghost Breakers

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The Ghost Breakers
The ghost breakers.jpg
Directed byGeorge Marshall
Screenplay byWalter DeLeon
Based onThe Ghost Breaker
(1909 play)
by Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard
Produced byArthur Hornblow Jr.
CinematographyCharles Lang
Edited byEllsworth Hoagland
Music byErnst Toch
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • June 7, 1940 (1940-06-07)
  • June 21, 1940 (1940-06-21)
Running time
83 minutes
CountryUnited States

The Ghost Breakers is a 1940 American mystery/horror comedy film directed by George Marshall and starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. It was adapted by screenwriter Walter DeLeon as the third film version of the 1909 play The Ghost Breaker by Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard.[2]

Along with the Abbott and Costello films Hold That Ghost and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Hope and Goddard's own The Cat and the Canary, it is cited as a prime example of the classic Hollywood horror-comedy.[2][3]


Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard in The Ghost Breakers trailer.JPG

In a Manhattan radio studio, a broadcast is being made by crime reporter Lawrence Lawrence (Bob Hope)—"Larry" to his friends, as well as his enemies, who are many in number among the local underworld.

Listening in on the broadcast is pretty brunette Mary Carter (Paulette Goddard), whose high-rise hotel room goes dark as a violent thunderstorm causes a citywide blackout. In the near darkness, a knock comes at her door. It is Mr. Parada (Paul Lukas), a suave, vaguely sinister Cuban solicitor. He delivers the deed to her inherited plantation and mansion, "Castillo Maldito", on a small island off the coast of Cuba. Despite Parada's discouragement, she impulsively decides to travel to Cuba by ship to inspect her new property.

During Parada's visit, Mary receives a telephone call from Mr. Mederos (Anthony Quinn), an even more sinister gent who warns Mary not to sell the newly inherited property to Parada. Mary agrees to meet Mederos later.

Meanwhile, after Larry Lawrence has finished broadcasting the evening's exposé of a local crime boss, he receives a telephone call from the crime boss, Frenchy Duval (Paul Fix). Frenchy invites Larry to his hotel to discuss the broadcast so he can "give it" to him straight.

Coincidentally, Frenchy is living in the same hotel where Mary Carter lives. Mederos arrives on the same hotel floor as Larry. However, Mederos is looking for Parada. Mederos confronts Parada and Parada shoots and kills him. Larry hears the shot and fires his gun at random. In a mix-up in the still-darkened building, Larry sees the body and believes he's killed one of Duval's henchmen. In the confusion he finds himself in the rooms of Mary Carter, who is already busy packing for her journey. Believing that he is being pursued by Duval's men, Larry hides in Mary's large open trunk. Unaware of Larry's presence, Mary locks the trunk and arranges for its transport to the harbor.

Later at the dock, Larry's valet Alex (Willie Best) searches among the luggage bound for loading and finds Larry among them. Although not in time to prevent the trunk's transfer to the ship's hold, Alex manages to get on board, hoping to extricate his employer before the ship sails.

Once in her stateroom, Mary is surprised to unpack Larry along with the rest of her belongings. Larry and Alex decide to remain on board, partly to act as bodyguards to the plucky beauty, but also to keep out of reach of Frenchy Duval and the police.

As Larry and Mary strike up a flirtation, they run into an acquaintance of Mary's, Geoff Montgomery (Richard Carlson), a young professorial type who regales them with tales of the local superstitions of their destination, particularly voodoo, ghosts and zombies.

Upon reaching port in Havana, Mary, Larry, Alex go to the island. En route they find a shack occupied by an old woman (Virginia Brissac) and her catatonic son (Noble Johnson), whom they believe is a zombie. The imposing plantation manor proves to be a spooky edifice indeed. They begin to explore the long-abandoned, cobweb-ridden mansion, and discover a large portrait of a woman who is nearly an exact likeness of Mary—most certainly an ancestor.

Soon they are terrorized by the appearance of a ghost, and the reappearance of the zombie. Are these real, or are they a ruse to frighten Mary away from her inheritance?


Uncredited (in order of appearance)

Various versions[edit]

The Dickey and Goddard play The Ghost Breaker was filmed twice previously by Paramount, first in 1914 by Cecil B. DeMille, with stars H. B. Warner and Rita Stanwood. It was filmed again in 1922 by director Alfred E. Green, starring Wallace Reid and Lila Lee.[2] Both these silent film versions are now considered to be lost films.[4]

The film was adapted for radio on Screen Directors Playhouse on April 4, 1949. Bob Hope re-created his film role, and Shirley Mitchell starred as Mary. Hope appeared again on the program for an hour-long version on June 14, 1951.

George Marshall, director of the 1940 version, remade The Ghost Breakers as Scared Stiff (1953), featuring Martin and Lewis (Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis). The remake featured cameos not only from Hope, but also from Bing Crosby. A year before Scared Stiff, Martin and Lewis appeared in the Crosby/Hope film Road to Bali. Marshall also directed the not-dissimilar Murder, He Says (1945), in which Fred MacMurray compares the situation to "that Bob Hope movie The Ghost Breakers."

Scenes from the film were used in the 1972 pilot episode of The Snoop Sisters (aka The Female Instinct).[5]


Reviews from critics were positive. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote, "It looks as though Paramount has really discovered something: it has found the fabled formula for making an audience shriek with laughter and fright at one and (as the barkers say) the simultaneous time."[6] Variety declared it "solid comedy entertainment that will generate plenty of laughs and roll up some hefty b.o. figures along the way."[7] Harrison's Reports called it, "One of the finest ghost stories that have been produced for some time."[8] "Corking comedy has laughs and thrills aplenty," Film Daily reported.[9] John Mosher of The New Yorker wrote, "The amalgam of farce and horror is very successful."[10]

Writing in The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia, Peter Dendle said, "This is considered to be among Bob Hope's finest pictures, and the direction is smooth and the lines delivered flawlessly, but black actor Willie Best's jokes about fried chicken are no longer funny, and smarmy Hope isn't funny to begin with."[11] Glenn Kay, who wrote Zombie Movies: The Ultimate Guide, called it "entertaining and hugely successful", though he said some scenes are uncomfortable due to their political incorrectness.[12]

The Ghostbusters series of films, though not a product of Dickey or Goddard, continue on in the same spirit as their 'Ghost Breaker' predecessors.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hanson, Patricia King, ed. (1993). The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States: Feature Films, 1931-1940. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 750. ISBN 0-520-07908-6.
  2. ^ a b c Miller, John M. "The Ghost Breakers". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved February 2, 2015.
  3. ^ King, Susan (June 2, 2010). "Classic Hollywood: When Bob Hope, Joe E. Brown and Red Skelton ruled big-screen comedies". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 2, 2015.
  4. ^ " lost films index". Retrieved February 2, 2015.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Crowther, Bosley (July 4, 1940). "The Ghost Breakers (1940)". The New York Times. Retrieved February 2, 2015.
  7. ^ "The Ghost Breakers". Variety. New York: Variety, Inc. June 12, 1940. p. 14.
  8. ^ "'The Ghost Breakers' with Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard". Harrison's Reports: 98. June 22, 1940.
  9. ^ "Reviews of the New Films". Film Daily. New York: Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.: 5 June 13, 1940.
  10. ^ Mosher, John (July 6, 1940). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. New York: F-R Publishing Corp. p. 46.
  11. ^ Dendle, Peter (2001). The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia. McFarland & Company. pp. 73–74. ISBN 978-0-7864-9288-6.
  12. ^ Kay, Glenn (2008). Zombie Movies: The Ultimate Guide. Chicago Review Press. pp. 14–15. ISBN 978-1-55652-770-8.

External links[edit]