Eureka are bringing out two classic comedy horror pictures from Paramount, both starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard with THE GHOST BREAKERS being presented from a new 2K master. Here's what we get:
The Cat and the Canary (1939)
The 1939 feature version of this well-known stage play sets its 'Midnight Will Reading in an Old Dark House' plot in the depths of the Louisiana swamps. Hope, Goddard and a motley assortment of family members gather to hear George Zucco's solicitor explaining that everything goes to Goddard's character providing she stays alive and sane. But what's that? A psychopathic killer called The Cat has escaped from the local mental institution and may be headed their way? And there's a hidden necklace worth thousands hidden on the property too?
With all of this going on it's surprising to realise that director Elliott Nugent gets everything done and dusted in 72 minutes (the 1927 Paul Leni silent version is closer to two hours). It's a crisp affair with crackling dialogue and appealing leads. The film's secret weapon, though, is Gale Sondergaard as the creepy housekeeper, obviously relishing every line of dialogue she has.
Extras consist of a commentary track from Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby who have plenty to tell us about the cast , the production, and the history of the play and its various adaptations, including that the two earlier Universal sound versions are now considered lost films. While they do point out that the alligators we see have their jaws taped shut they don't spot that Paulette Goddard goes to bed with her shoes on. Kim Newman provides an excellent 20 minute summation of the 'source novel' of this subgenre, Earl Derr Biggers' Seven Keys to Baldpate, and the productions it inspired, and there's also a trailer.
The Ghost Breakers (1940)
While THE CAT AND THE CANARY wastes no time getting its protagonists out to its scary location, THE GHOST BREAKERS has more breathing space to set up its characters. This time Hope is Lawrence Lawrence Lawrence ("My parents didn't have much imagination") a radio personality and 'Ghost Breaker' which seems to involve him revealing secrets about mob bosses live on air.
At least, that's what causes him to end up in Paulette Goddard's trunk bound for her haunted ancestral Cuban castle (a fantastic set, by the way). The cast is livened up by a young Richard Carlson and an even younger Anthony Quinn but the film almost belongs to Willie Best as Hope's manservant / sidekick. Add in Nobel Johnson as a zombie and it's certainly arguable that THE GHOST BREAKERS is even better than its predecessor.
Extras for this film consist of a 30 minute radio version (also starring Hope), a trailer, and another excellent Lyons and Rigby commentary track that provides plenty of information on the cast (including the bit players) and is extremely helpful in explaining some of the 'of its time' humour that certainly went over my head, especially all the stuff where Hope & Goddard are dancing on the boat.
THE CAT AND THE CANARY and THE GHOST BREAKERS is out as a single disc Blu-ray set from Eureka on Monday 5th December 2002. The first 2000 copies will also includes a collector's booklet with new writing by Craig Ian Mann, and a slipcase