The Ghost Breakers

The Ghost Breakers

Ghost Breakers
Written by Walter DeLeon
Based on a play by Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard
Directed by George Marshall

Ghost Breakers
I am a big fan of Bob Hope comedies, from the Road movies to the My Favorite movies to just the random wacky situations that are send ups of popular genres. Hope regularly brings the entertainment, sometimes just enlivening dull scripts and sometimes making classic cinema.

The Ghost Breakers is a murder mystery and a haunted house movie, but much of that is just setting for events to happen that Bob Hope and Willie Best can react to. A huge mansion in Cuba is gifted to a distant relative, and she returns in the midst of murder and deception. Featuring a Scooby-Doo-style plot by the villains to scare the owner away to seize the treasure in the house for themselves.
Ghost Breakers

“You look like a blackout in a blackout” – Bob Hope to Willie Best

The Ghost Breakers is a product of it’s time, with Willie Best as Larry’s black man servant Alex. Alex isn’t really Shuckin’ and jivin’, but he plays up being the scared character during the haunted house scenes. His character is not a moron, he continually saves Larry and Bob Hope has spoken very highly of Willie Best. It is hardly as embarrassing as other black roles from the 1940s, but not the kind of role you’d hold up as a good example.

A bit more disturbing is the portrayal of the housekeeper at the mansion, the old black woman (who is a blackfaced Virginia Brissac) and her son the zombie. Not the brain eating zombies, but old school voodoo zombies. Sure, this is Cuba and not Haiti, but we’re in the era when no one bothered to keep track of which Afro-Caribbean country was which.

Noble Johnson plays the zombie. He’s another black entertainer of old Hollywood who had quite his own storied career. As we briefly mentioned when we covered the Oscar Micheaux film The Girl From Chicago, Noble Johnson and his brother George Perry Johnson founded their own studio in 1916 to produce black films for black audiences. The Lincoln Motion Picture Company created films where blacks were depicted as actual people and not the racist caricatures found in mainstream cinema. Though not the first black owned film company, it is among the first. Their first picture was the now lost 1916 short The Realization of a Negro’s Ambition, and the company lasted until 1921 (Johnson resigned a year earlier to focus on his acting career.) Johnson had parts in the classic films The Mummy, King Kong, and Son of Kong.
Ghost Breakers
Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard teamed up once prior in The Cat and the Canary (1939), and would reteam again in Nothing But the Truth (1941), along with Willie Best. Paulette Goddard not afraid to show some skin, constantly stripping to her nightie, and later wearing a swimsuit. She even has part of her dress rip off when being chased by the zombie. At this time she was married to Charlie Chaplin.

This is the third (of four) film adaptations of the play “The Ghost Breaker” by Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard. The first two – 1914 (by Cecil B. DeMille) and 1922 – were both silent productions and are considered lost. The fourth was George Marshall directing again in 1953’s Scared Stiff with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis (Bob Hope made a cameo appearance!) Bob Hope liked this role (which was heroic instead of his usual cowardly roles) and reprised it in two separate radio versions of the play, both on Screen Director’s Playhouse (a 30 minute version in 1949, and a 60 minute version in 1951)

Larry Lawrence (Bob Hope) – Lawrence Lawrence Lawrence goes by the name Larry Lawrence because it’s easier to remember. A radio personality who has made his fame by exposing dirt on criminals (thanks to getting tipped off), those same mob stories get him and trouble and soon he’s on the run. Which involves him in the actual plot, about a haunted house. Because the mob and haunted house goes together, as the mob kills people, thus making houses haunted.
Mary Carter (Paulette Goddard) – Just your average woman who inherits a mansion called Castile Mardido on Black Island in Cuba that her Great-great-grandfather built not long before Castro comes to power and she’s forced to flee. But that would be in the never-made sequel…
Alex (Willie Best) – Larry’s faithful driver who is really an assistant and friend. But because this is the 1940s he’s just a driver despite obviously filling those other roles.
Geoff Montgomery (Richard Carlson) – A Cuban native that Mary knows, oddly enough returning to Cuba just as she is. Hm…. He also begins bumbling around the haunted mansion. Hm…
Ramon Mederos / Francisco Mederos (Anthony Quinn) – Anthony Quinn plays both the murdered Ramon Mederos and his non-murdered twin brother Francisco, who wants answers.

Ghost Breakers
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The Girl From Chicago (Review)

The Girl From Chicago

Written and directed by Oscar Micheaux

Oscar Micheaux was one of the greatest film directors who ever lived. And I don’t make that statement lightly. His films might not be the greatest films ever made (okay, many of them are terrible!), but for what he accomplished, and for so long, and at what time he did it, Micheaux deserves recognition. Micheaux was an outstanding businessman, had he been born fifty years later he’d be one of the richest men in the country powered solely by his own awesome business skills. As it is, he did amazingly well considering he was a self-made man through and through who did almost every aspect of his movies by himself. For an independent operator to survive for as long as Micheaux did cranking out films and getting funding for the next round is a miracle most filmmakers with far fewer obstacles cannot accomplish nowadays.

First, some history lessons. All-black films were known as “Race films” or “Colored pictures”, usually played in segregated all-black theaters, or all-black showings of films (usually matinees or midnight shows – and, yes, there would be whites that showed up for this shows, many eager to see the black nightclub sequences!) Most of the films were outside of the studio system, done with ultra-low budgets, and many films no longer survive.

Some parts of Micheaux’s early biography is guesses, speculation, and even legend. So don’t be all angry if dates don’t seem exact. Oscar Micheaux was born the son of two freed slaves near either Murphysboro or Metropolis, Illinois, in 1884, the fifth of 13 (or 11) children. The exact pronunciation of Micheaux’s name is up for debate, as was the spelling for the first few decades of Micheaux’s life before he settled on Micheaux. He also spent time growing up in in Great Bend, Kansas, where he was eventually buried. Around age 16, Micheaux moved to Chicago with an older brother to find work. After getting ripped off by an employment agency, Micheaux vowed to become his own boss so that wouldn’t happen again. He then set up his own shoe shine business in a white suburb – thus avoiding competition from all the bootblacks downtown. He learned much about the business world and how to save money during that period.

After spending time doing farmwork and then porter work on a Pullman car, Micheaux at age 24 went west, young man, to South Dakota and an all-white farm community of Dallas. All-white except Oscar Micheaux, that is! Micheaux’s business sense increased his acreage to over 500 acres he had enough time to write his first novel (of seven known and possibly as many as 10 or more), dubbed The Conquest: The Story of a Negro Homesteader. As you may have guessed, the story is pretty much the story of Oscar’s life, the main character is even named Oscar Devereaux. Micheaux’s next two novels wereThe Forged Note (1915) and The Homesteader (1917) – Micheaux’s most famous novel. In it, Oscar Devereaux leaves the Scottish lass that is the love of his life because she isn’t black and moves to the midwest as a farmer to find his fortune. He married the daughter of a preacher but ends up getting framed for their murder. His Scottish love hires private investigators to prove his innocence, and also conveniently finds out she has a very distant black relative and therefore can marry the hero without either of them shaming their race. Definitely a product of the time, and except for the magic one-drop rule cop out at the end, it probably takes a lot from Micheaux’s real life as well. Micheaux sold copies by going door to door selling copies to the farmers in the all white community. Micheaux would go on publicity tours after each book was finished, throughout the bible belt, met with local community leaders, lectured at schools and churches. He became well known both among blacks and rural white farmers.

His last four novels were written in the 1940’s: The Wind from Nowhere (1941), The Case of Mrs. Wingate (1944), The Story of Dorothy Stanfield (1946), and Masquerade, a Historical Novel (1947)

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