Friday, September 28, 2012

Oh, Make It Stop: "Ghosts on the Loose" (1943)

The Bowery Boys/Dead End Kids were really reaching when it came to this sad mess, made during World War II.

The Boys, lead by Mugs (Leo Gorcey) and the stupid Glimpy (Huntz Hall), are helping with the wedding of Glimpy's sister Betty (Ava Gardner) to dashing Jack (Rick Vallin). The Boys started their cinematic career as teen toughs, now they are fast approaching middle age but still playing juvenile delinquents. Jack has purchased a cottage in the country for his new bride, sight unseen. The house next door has some weird stuff going on inside, full of ghosts. One of Emil's (Bela Lugosi) henchmen offers to buy the cottage from Jack, and leaves him a card with the "haunted" house's address on it.

Jack and Betty leave for their honeymoon, and the Boys find the card and go to the address, planning to clean up the cottage for the newlyweds. Of course, they go to the wrong house, and proceed to go through all sorts of lame physical comedy. Emil and his henchmen begin scaring the Boys. Jack and Betty go to their new home, and find out the Boys have stolen the furniture out of the cottage and put it into the haunted house. The Boys find a printing press in the cellar, and Nazi propaganda. They assume Jack is a Nazi, and the printing press makes a few trips back and forth between the two houses, as the cops show up, and the henchmen try to shut the Boys up.

For a sixty-four minute film, this sure is plotty. The dummy humor is sometimes amusing, as the Boys misuse words and furnish Jack and Betty's wedding from a mob boss' funeral, but the film dies when Lugosi is on the screen. His Emil has just a few scenes, and he is embarrassing. Gardner was just starting out in her career, and this film is notable only for that fact. Beaudine's direction is strictly average, he relies on his cast's constant facial muggings to propel a scene, as opposed to a plot that actually works.

There are a few weird moments. The lone African-American member of the cast refuses to go into the haunted house because it is too dark for anyone to see him! Glimpy contracts German measles at the end of the film: his face is covered with swastikas, and he does a "Heil Hitler" salute. I was dumbfounded.

I think the audience for "Ghosts on the Loose" was children, and if yours are showing an interest in Nazi propaganda, then maybe another form of entertainment would be more appropriate. (*) out of five stars.