Tue 26 Feb 2008
THE GHOST AND THE GUEST. 1943, Producers Releasing Corporation. James Dunn, Florence Rice, Sam McDaniel, Robert Dudley, Mabel Todd. Story: Milt Gross; screen writer: Morey Amsterdam. Director: William Nigh.
Morey Amsterdam you know if you’re old enough to have watched The Dick Van Dyke Show on TV. He played Buddy Sorrell, one of Rob’s fellow writers on the fictional “Alan Brady” comedy show. Milt Gross you may not know, unless you’re heavily into animation and 1930s and 40s comic strips and books.
But put them together to write a mystery movie, and what do you get? A comedy movie, of course! Of course there is a spooky old haunted house, a coffin of an recently executed convict that proves to be empty when the local constabulary comes to examine it, secret passages, trick panels, openings in walls where sinister eyes can be seen looking through, and non-stop laughs all the way through.
Maybe that last part is conditional. You may think of routines like these to be utter corn, which of course is true, but I’ll be willing to wager that even so, you may be tempted to smile every once in a while.
James Dunn, a long time comedic actor, and Florence Rice, daughter of famed sportswriter Grantland Rice, play newlyweds who’ve been given the home by her father – a former hideout of the sinister gangster whose demise I’ve just attested to. Instead they meet the former hangman (dour Robert Dudley) who did the job and who claims the house is his. The couple’s black chauffeur (Sam McDaniel) completes their threesome. The rest of the cast consists of various mobsters, molls and cops, including the pulp-story writing chief of police, a nice touch.
Dunn is his usual likable clowning self, and Florence Rice, both pretty and charming, seems to match him step for step. I would have thought she’d have had a long continuing career in movies, but not so. This was her last one, at the age of only 36. (She was in over 45 movies before this one, though.)
Luckily the movie is just over an hour long. I’m not tempted to ever watch it again, but with one large caveat, it was fun, in a dopey sort of way, while it lasted. Not funny though, was the former hangman’s trailing after the chauffeur with a noose in his hands. I’ve seen the same bit in other movies of this type, and in no case was it one of Hollywood’s finer moments.