Your reviewer’s first Abbott and Costello picture, HOLD THAT GHOST craftily grafts the comedy duo’s burlesque schticks upon a haunted house milieu in one neat fashion, Chuck and Ferdie (Abbott and Costello respectively) are two gas station attendants, who accidentally inherit a rundown tavern from mobster Moose Mattson (Davidson), with a none-too-cryptic message from the latter who kept his money in his head.
Arriving at the tavern with the shady Smith (Lawrence), who is after Moose’s money and three other unrelated fellow passengers, a pedantic doctor (Carlson, kit out with a heartthrob’s innocence), a maidenly waitress (Ankers), the two strike up a cornball romantic subplot, plus a radio actress Camille Brewster (Davis), who is scream-prone and proves to be a perfect foil for the hapless Ferdie.
While it is very natural for audience to fall for the duo’s comic personae and their dextrous antics, Abbott, the straight-faced alpha male, and Costello, the timorous, addlebrained patsy, it is rather uncomfortable to watch Abbott repeatedly slaps Costello to bring him to his senses, which effectively freezes this reviewer’s smile, and in the acting front, obviously, Costello takes the heavy lifting with all the slapsticks and simulations, which hits the mark with the moving candlesticks skit (although the film doesn’t give any explanation of its supposed paranormal element).
Bookended with the mirthful performances from Ted Lewis and his orchestra and the Andrew Sisters (affixed in post-production to ride on the coattail of the duo’s groundbreaking first starring vehicle BUCK PRIVATES, 1941, where the sisters also make a big splash), HOLD THAT GHOSTS is a loosely structured no-brainer, but awash with fetching brainwaves and contrivances, not least the bedroom-casino switcheroo, that is executed refreshingly by director Arthur Lubin, and for lulz-seeking viewers, this Abbott-Costello adventurer is a boon to that purpose.
referential entries: Lubin’s PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943, 7.0/10); Charles Chaplin’s THE GOLD RUSH (1925, 8.2/10).