Review of Hold That Ghost


Hold That GhostThat’s how Lou Costello calls out to his friend Bud Abbott whenever he is in trouble. Of course you knew that. I mean, everyone knows about Abbott and Costello, right???

Okay, maybe not. Young readers might not have a clue about these two comedic geniuses. Not quite on par with Laurel and Hardy, but still they held their own. Bud Abbot is usually the straight man while Lou Costello is the butt of the jokes. They first came on the scene as radio entertainers in the late 1930s and thrilled radio audiences with their “Who’s on First?” bit. Soon they were making movies, several of which were horror comedies.

To appreciate the movie Hold That Ghost, one has to appreciate the antics of Abbott and Costello. I do appreciate their humor, but this might be my least favorite of the frightfully funny films that they made.

Here’s a brief synopsis. Through some rather strange circumstances, Chuck Murray (Bud Abbott) and Ferdie Jones (Lou Costello) inherit a rural tavern from a deceased mobster. They get stranded at their new “home”, along with four other people, including Joan Davis who plays a kooky radio actress. Another tag along is gangster and lawyer Charlie Smith. Rumor has it there is money hidden somewhere in the house/tavern and Charlie wants the money.   The tavern hasn’t been used for some twenty odd years; it is dusty and sheets are draped over the furniture. In other words, it looks like the typical inside of a haunted house.

I’m leaving a lot out in this description. But who cares, you get the drift – several people are forced to spend the night in a house that might be haunted, one of whom is criminal with ulterior motives. A familiar plotline, but with Abbott and Costello, it’s done in a humorous way.

Hold That Ghost was their first horror comedy. But for me, it was their last , meaning that I had seen all their other scare-laugh pictures before I got around to seeing this one. I think I have been spoiled by the ones that have come later, mainly the “Abbott and Costello Meet…” movies. This duo has met them all; Frankenstein, The Mummy, Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, etc. etc. etc.   I like all the “Meet” Movies, and since they came later, maybe Abbot and Costello had the benefit of learning from experience and perfecting their act, a luxury they did not have when making Hold that Ghost. But I don’t know if this adequately explains why I prefer the “Meet”s to Hold that Ghost. All the movies feature the running gag of Costello being at the butt of the jokes. He witnesses something odd and terrifying and by the time his buddy Abbott arrives at the scene, everything is back to normal, so Abbott accuses his pal of “seeing things”.

In Hold That Ghost this happens several times. Costello hangs his jacket on a coat rack in his bedroom, which activates a lever that transforms the room into a speakeasy’s delight. From out of the walls come the roulette tables, bars and other prohibition era delights. Of course, Costello doesn’t see the transformation; he only sees the new set up. Scared out of his wits, he runs to get Abbott. By the time he shows up, it is a bedroom again, because somehow Costello reset it before running to fetch his friend. Later in the movie, Costello sits with Joan Davis. He sees a candelabra slide across the table. Joan is looking away and misses it. It happens again and again and soon Abbott comes in and scolds his panic-stricken friend.

This happens in Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein. Costello sees Dracula rise from his coffin. When Abbott comes along, the coffin is empty. Costello runs into the Frankenstein monster. Abbott sees him not! So am I saying that this kind of bit was funny in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein but not Hold That Ghost? I hope I am not saying that, because the gags are virtually the same and Hold That Ghost hold-that-ghost-2came first!   Maybe I wanted the house that they inherited to be a little more ghostly and less automated (i.e. the opening of secret passages). Most of the ghosts were men hiding underneath sheets. Yeah, yeah, I get it; this is supposed to be funny. But maybe I wanted more humorous encounters with the supernatural. I…I just don’t know. It’s not a bad film. Maybe it’s even good. Maybe it’s…I don’t know.

Well, since I’m not providing a very thought-provoking review (“Maybe it’s…I don’t know”…yeah, that’s an intelligent analysis for ya!), I’ll fill up some space with little bits of trivia:

    • Since World War II was right around the corner, films about the military were in demand. Abbot and Costello had already come out with Buck Privates in Jan 1941, and Oh Charile (The original title for Hold That Ghost) was due out next. But, they held it back so that they could follow up with another service orientated comedy – In the Navy. I wonder – was this film renamed Hold That Ghost because the film’s release date was postponed for a few weeks? (The film being “held back”.)
    • The film has performances by Ted Lewis and his Orchestra and The Andrew Sisters. Kind of awkward for a haunted house movie, but since the Andrew Sisters performed in both of the preceding service films, maybe the producers thought that these singing sisters were going to be a staple for A & C films. Thus they added in the performances after the film was already shot.
    • I already mentioned that Joan Davis stars in the film. But did you know that Joan Davis is the same Joan in the TV sitcom I Married Joan? What’s that? You’ve never heard of I Married Joan? Let’s move on then.
    • Shemp Howard stars in this film. Please tell me you know who he is. Please?

Most reviewers praise this film. Who am I to go against the grain? I have included a link to the film. I don’t know how long it will be available, but while it’s there, watch the film and decide for yourself whether this is a good film or not.
Hold That Ghost – Abbott and Costello

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