Abbott and Costello’s Hold That Ghost
When I heard about the Universal Pictures Blogathon I knew I had to take part as the famed studio was the home of my favorite comedy duo – Abbott and Costello. But which film to pick? Ride ‘Em Cowboy is my favorite. I love Who Done It?, too. Then there’s Buck Privates, Pardon My Sarong, Hit the Ice and a whole host of others. So, in the spirit of the Halloween season I decided on one of their spookier affairs – Hold That Ghost.
My introduction to Abbott and Costello came early on with the film The Time of Their Lives. Another ghost tale it’s a rare film where the famed duo doesn’t work as a team. My mom had taped it off AMC and, let me tell you, I wore out that VHS. I would watch it over and over again. In high school I rediscovered my love of classic film and Abbott and Costello became my favorite comedy duo. My family owned a whole catalog of their films and I grew to love the cheeky Costello and his straight man Abbott.
Hold That Ghost was released in 1941 just as Abbott and Costello were becoming box office stars. It was one of four pictures they release that year and the only one not military themed. World War II was just around the corner and the duo’s three other films – Buck Privates, In the Navy and Keep ‘Em Flying – focused on three branches of the armed forces (army, navy and air force). As much as I enjoy this trio I believe Hold That Ghost was their best film of 1941.
You may recall I recently attended a screening of the film at the New Beverly. Still hilarious to this day it was a pleasure watching it with a live audience. To hear others laugh with me was a real delight.
Hold That Ghost tells the tale of Chuck Murray and Ferdie Jones two hapless gas station attendants who happen to be with a mob boss at the moment of his demise. Due to this circumstance they inherit an abandoned roadside inn he owned. Leaving the gas pumps behind they take a private bus to visit their newfound property. Little do they know that the bus driver is actually a member of the mob trying to bump them off so he can find the boss’s fortune that is supposedly hidden in the inn. They also don’t know that he’s taken on extra fares (he’s nothing if not resourceful) to earn some extra dough. Played by Richard Carlson, Joan Davis and Evelyn Ankers they round out the cast of characters soon to be stuck at the inn. You see, the cab driver has run off during a storm leaving them to last the night in the spooky spot. With gangsters trying to get them out of the picture and creepy happenings at every corner they need to join together to make it til morning.
The film is hilarious from start to finish but the period in the spooky inn is where it really shines. The duo is at their best as they bumble their way through the night. Abbott is all skepticism and bravado and Costello is scared to death.
Costello also has second partner in the film – the great Joan Davis. A talented film comedian in her own right she and Costello have great chemistry as the duo who’s not afraid to admit they’re terrified of the place. Their hilarious dance scene is a true highlight of the film and showcases both their athleticism and perfect comedic timing.
Rounding out the cast are two top musical acts of the era – Ted Healy and the Andrews Sisters. While Ted Healy is mostly forgotten today the Andrews Sister remain due their popular hit Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (featured in Buck Privates). Both perform some of their most famous songs and serve as entertaining book ends to the action.
Hold That Ghost remains one of Abbott and Costello’s most beloved films and a personal favorite of mine. It’s a prime example of the duo’s comedic genius and enduring delight.