Hold That Ghost (1941)

Toronto Film Society presented Hold That Ghost (1941) on Monday, February 16, 1987 in a double bill with The Boys From Syracuse as part of the Season 39 Monday Evening Film Buffs Series “B”, Programme 7.

Production Company: Universal.  Producer: Burt Kelly and Glenn Tyron.  Director: Arthur Lubin.  Screenplay: Robert Lees, Fred Rinaldo, John Grant.  Camera:  Elwood Bredell and Joseph Valentine.  Film Editor: Phillip Cahn.

Cast:  Bud Abbott (Chuck Murray), Lou Costello (Ferdinand Jones), Richard Carlson (Doctor Jackson), Joan Davis (Camille Brewster), Mischa Auer (Gregory), with Ted Lewis and his Orchestra, and the Andrew Sisters.

When Universal Pictures began its series of classic “horror” films, with the likes of FrankensteinDracula and others, there were few who expected the company would have a “second” chance to reap financial rewards, the plaudits of film-goers from the team of monsters.

However, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello found the monsters to be ideal play-mates in a series of films of the ’40’s, which had the classic characters reduced to straight men (or beings).  Hold That Ghost some years earlier, was the first foray of A&C into the ghostly realms, and produced what is generally regarded as one of the best pictures turned out by the team.

The setting is one perfect for the two..a haunted house, and all of the potential situations such a house creates.  The two are waiters in a night club operated by a mobster..which allows for the appearances of two of the most popular musical aggregations of that day..Ted Lewis and his Entertainers, and the Andrew Sisters.  The two are fired, then operate a gas station, and become beneficiaries of a gang-leaders will.  The major asset is deserted country tavern, which becomes the playground of the picture.

The film came early in the career of the duo, being the third in which they had teamed.  Their career began in 1940 in One Night in the Tropics, in which the famous “Who’s on First,” routine was included.  Their first starring film was Buck Privates which was very well received.  Hold That Ghost was originally produced prior to the general release of Buck Privates and after Universal took a look at the outstanding box office success of the latter, it was held over until In the Navy had its full run.  The film originally was scheduled as a relatively short programme feature, but the delay in release allowed the studio to rewrite the start and finish of the picture to include Ted Lewis and his band, and the Andrew Sisters musical numbers.  The film made good; use of original dialogue and situations without falling back on the familiar Abbott and Costello routines which were already running a little thread-bare from the earlier films.

Abbott and Costello were “Johnny come latelies” on the movie scene, and although physically in some respects (Fat & Skinny), bore a resemblance to Laurel & Hardy, they were never in the same league.  But they were, however, much more than the “patter comedians” who managed to come up with good material.  The very longevity of the pair proves the point.  By the time they were “discovered” in 1938, they had been working together for nearly a decade, and the meshing of the team was already perfected.  They were not “film” comedians, they came out of burlesque and vaudeville.  The characters were always the same..Abbott was the domineering wise guy, and Costello the gullible patsy.

William “Bud” Abbott, was born in 1895 in New Jersey.  His mother was a bareback rider, and his father an advance man for Ringling Brothers Circus.  He had a short stint as a lion tamer, then went into the business end of show business.  There are many stories on how he first team with Costello, but the most apt to be believed is that a partner was needed for Lou one night, when his own failed to appear, and that fill-in was Abbott.

Lou Costello, was born Louis Francis Cristillo in 1906, in Paterson, New Jersey.  He was a standout in high school sports, left military school in New York, and decided he wanted to be in the movies.  He was a stunt man at MGM, and there are reports he plied his trade in about 60 silent films.  He left when talkies came in, worked into vaudeville and burlesque, and eventually teamed with Abbott.

Unlike Laurel & Hardy, or Chaplin, the team never really participated in the making of their films, and were at the mercy of their writers and directors.  After their first burst of success in the early 40’s, their films became very inconsistent, with “dogs” following “delights” on the screen.  Their final film together with Dance With Me Henry in 1956.  The team staged an amicable break-up in 1957, based mainly on Abbott’s desire to take it easy.  Costello made one forgettable film alone in 1959, The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock.  A successful t.v. show ran for years in syndication, as did a cartoon show.  Costello died of heart failure in 1959, Abbott died in 1974.

As Leonard Maltin wrote: “Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were not artists; they never pretended to be.  Their aim was to be funny, and the millions who made them the most popular comedians of the 1940’s, and the millions who discovered them on television prove they succeeded with flying colours.”

Notes by Bill Sturrup

PLEASE NOTE:  Our Film Buffs screening on Monday, March 9, will be devote to the career of actress ANNA LEE.  The two 1940’s films Bedlam and Summer Storm will be shown, and Miss LEE will be in attendance.  Members in all our series have been invited to attend.

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