Tuesday, January 3, 2012

7. HOLD THAT GHOST (1941)

Abbott and Costello's fourth Universal picture began as their third, but was held back when the riotous success of BUCK PRIVATES suggested it might be best to keep the spooks in temporary storage and send the boys back into the service, thus the hastily concocted IN THE NAVY. Once that picture was finished, director Arthur Lubin shoehorned The Andrews Sisters into HOLD THAT GHOST by bookending the existing footage with nightclub material also featuring Ted Lewis (who performs his standard "Me And My Shadow") and his Orchestra. For a picture so blatantly manhandled to satisfy all the expectations of an established formula, HOLD THAT GHOST is a remarkably successful comedy, all the moreso because A&C have toned-down the bullying aspect of their act, which was becoming a bit grating after a few movies.

I own the old Universal "Encore Edition" laserdisc double feature of HOLD THAT GHOST and THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES, but have no recollection of seeing it before. There is a lot here to charm the classic horror fan: Evelyn Ankers in her earliest horror-friendly role for Universal (she was ushered directly into the female lead of THE WOLF MAN), familiar studio set components and music cues, scenes that rival the effectiveness of similar scenes in the previous year's THE GHOST BREAKERS (which it also apes, to the extent of adding Richard Carlson to the cast) and the spookiest Three Stooges two-reelers. But what really enlivens the film is the casting of comedienne Joan Davis, who has particularly good chemistry with Lou Costello, epitomized by a hilarious slapstick dance number set to Strauss' "Blue Danube." Davis plays a radio actress known for her screaming sound effects work on horror programs, and she mentions some fun imaginary titles like "The Curse of the Mummy's Claw" -- around the same time it first occurred to Universal to start tapping that sequel vein themselves. There's also a wonderful moment when Ankers (obviously destined for great things in the genre) outscreams her. Some of the gags work so well that the comedy duo milked them again in the classic ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. Easily my favorite of the first four A&C features, with bit parts by Shemp Howard, Mischa Auer and Milton Parsons.

Viewed on Universal DVD.

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