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Hold That Ghost (1941): 31 Days of Horror

#18. Hold That Ghost (1941)

hold that ghost posterNature of Shame:
No Hold That Ghost Shame! Sharing with my girls.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1940’s
Pre-1970

My 6yo ran through the Abbott and Costello Meet… movies and when she wanted to watch another from A&C I knew I had one more up my sleeve to satisfy some of those Hooptober requirements.

Hold that Ghost had her doing Lou Costello impressions for at least another week. I take great pride when she assaults adults with her cries of “OH, CHUCK!! OH, CHUCK!!” and shames then when they don’t know Hold That Ghost. I’m raising my own Old Movie Weirdo. She’s hoping to become a card-carrying member by age 8. You’ve got to have goals and she’s decided that mastering subtraction is a secondary skill.

Hold That Ghost Elevator Pitch

Cue the Andrews Sisters. Bud and Lou play gas station attendants named Chuck and Freddie who dream of a high class occupation at a nightclub named Chez Glamour, but when they screw that up they’re back at the gas station and accidentally wind up in the backseat of a gangster during a high speed car chase/shootout. The gangster gets it, see? And due to their proximity to the deceased at his time of demise, they inherit his entire estate — a creepy old mansion. But where’s the dough? Cue the Andrews Sisters again.

hold that ghost

In the Not-So-Bloody Villa of Safe Scary Delights

Hold That Ghost clearly provided the blueprint for the Abbott and Costello Meet… movies that would follow a few years later. The film borrows its narrative from the early “old dark house” movies such as The Cat and the Canary (1927). Movies that sold a “haunted” old house but explained away all the scary bits by films’ end. Producers believed that movie audiences would find “real” haunts a little too unsettling. Thus, Scooby Doo was born. Safe scares for impressionable moviewatchers.

In 1932 The Old Dark House simultaneously created and broke the mold for the genre, parodying the genre from within. Thus comedy and “the old dark house” became natural companions; The Old Dark House left no legitimate avenue for sincere advancement of the genre. Once viewers became accustomed to being frightened by the prospect of real ghosts, horror movies had to provide that payoff. Comedies, however, could manipulate the form and wink at the audience. Hold That Ghost winks, nods and holds the flashlight up to the “spooks.” We must always believe that Lou is legitimately frightened and that Bud is dismissive and skeptical. It’s all good clean fun, except for the dead bodies.

hold that ghost

Everyone Expects Abbott and Costello to be frightened and skeptical, relatively speaking.

I assume that most viewers in 2018 view the Abbott and Costello Meet… movies because of the monster pedigree, but Hold That Ghost offers the most natural utility for their schtick. The latter movies become more finely turned, variations on the same theme (Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man excepted). Hold That Ghost doesn’t feel like a Universal brand (and no, obviously, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein wasn’t either because it was a surprise success and spawned four more monster mashups). It feels like the comedians have been tasked with an improvisational bit about a gangster’s money and a haunted house and they’re navigating the pratfalls of the relatively new horror comedy genre.

hold that ghost
Joan Davis with Lou Costello performing a delightful routine with an uncooperative candle.

The ambling rawness of the premise along with the cast of assorted supporting characters lends Hold That Ghost an off-the-cuff freshness that dwindled as the parade of monsters rolled on in the 1940’s. Joan Davis proves to be a particularly wonderful comedic partner for Lou, providing something more than the usual assortment of sarcasm and rebuffs. If Hold That Ghost surpasses other Bud and Lou horror comedies, it’s because the entire cast chips in to perform some of the heavy comedic lifting rather than leaving frantic Lou to flail all by his lonesome.

The wonderful and potentially underappreciated Evelyn Ankers also deserves a mention. As a 1940’s cog in the Universal machine, Ankers found herself in the thankless shrieking damsel roles of the 2nd Universal horror cycle. She perhaps owes that stint to her role in Hold That Ghost — the first of those performances. In this very same year she’d make her big movie monster debut alongside Lon Chaney, Jr. in The Wolf Man (1941), followed closely by The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), Son of Dracula (1943), Captive Wild Woman (1943), and The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1943) among many others. As a steady anchor for Universal’s monstrous, she provided more than just a pretty face.

hold that ghost

How Does One Hold That Ghost Anyway?

Though the title alludes to some ghost catching, you’ll have to wait a few years before anyone bothers with the capture and containment of spooks or specters. The film’s origins shed some light on the patchwork quality. It began life as a movie called “Oh, Charlie!” which makes sense when you hear how many times Lou says, “Oh, Chuck!”

The original narrative had the displaced gang members trying to scare Chuck and Ferdie out of the inherited tavern when another rival gang shows up to fight over the hidden loot (which turns out to be counterfeit. Production was put on hold after Buck Privates became such a smash success and Universal rushed a follow up In the Navy into theaters. For the capper, Universal brought back the Andrews Sisters to open and close the film because they’d appeared in both of the prior Abbott and Costello service comedies. Because how else would you bookend an old dark house horror comedy but with bandleader Ted Lewis and the Andrews Sisters — clearly the keys to all of these productions. Even contemporaneous critics called out the superfluous use of bookending musical numbers to pad the run time.

hold that ghost

Final Hold That Ghost Thoughts

I found it useful to revisit Hold That Ghost immediately after a tour through the latter Abbott and Costello Meet… series because it placed the films in a different context. It’s easy to forget that the formula began in 1941 with Hold That Ghost and didn’t magically come together seven years later for a hair-brained scheme to revive Universal’s slagging former moneymakers.

It’s no great surprise that Hold That Ghost feels fresher than the latter iterations of the formula. Just because it doesn’t have the monster branding doesn’t make it less worthwhile. I’d wager that if Hold That Ghost were called instead “Abbott and Costello Meet the Spooks” it would be probably considered the best of the lot and remain one of the duo’s best known films. Though I do wish the film didn’t have seven minutes of the Andrews Sisters.

Did someone say the Andrews Sisters?

hold that ghost

Hold That Ghost Rating:

Availability:

hold that ghost dvdOnce again let’s revisit the availability of the Abbott and Costello films for the uninitiated and the cheap seats.

Universal has given you dozens of opportunities to own the branded Meet the Monster films on Blu-ray and DVD through the  The Frankenstein Complete Legacy Collection, The Dracula Complete Legacy Collection and The Wolf Man Complete Legacy Collection.

If you’d like a complete collection of the Abbott and Costello Meet… movies, that’s more difficult. There’s the brilliant (but OOP) 28-film Abbott and Costello: The Complete Universal Pictures Collection steamer trunk that solves all problems. The Meet the Monsters DVD set contains Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde (which is currently not available on Blu-ray), but is missing Abbott & Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff because… I have no idea. In order to get that one, you’d need to purchase The Best of Abbott & Costello, Vol. 3 DVD. Got that?

Now, Hold That Ghost is available on The Best of Abbott & Costello Vol. 1 DVD set alongside the aforementioned Buck Privates and In the Navy.  Now you’re set. Go forth and watched Bud and Lou. 

 

2018 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Progress

#1. Deep Rising (1998)
#2. The Mist (2007)
#3. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
#4. Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
#5. Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)
#6. Maniac Cop (1988)
#7. Nightbreed (1990)
#8. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
#9. In the Castle of Bloody Desires (1968)
#10. Chopping Mall (1986)
#11. The Kiss of the Vampire (1963)
#12. The Legend of Hell House (1973)
#13. Messiah of Evil (1973)
#14. Possession (1981)
#15. Blood Diner (1987)
#16. Inquisition (1978)
#17. The Bloodstained Shadow (1978)
#18. Hold That Ghost (1941)

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add this nonsense to the list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.