The Ghost and the Guest

09/28/2023 08:22

Film: The Ghost and the Guest

Year: 1943

Director: William Nigh

Writers: Morey Amsterdam

Starring: James Dunn, Florence Rice and Robert Dudley



This was a movie that I discovered when searching for horror movies from 1943. I don’t believe it is listed that way on Letterboxd, only on the Internet Movie Database. Having now seen this, I understand why. I’ll get into that later. I did see this streaming on Tubi. I watched this blind, just knowing what I did and expecting this to be a haunted house film of sorts.

Synopsis: a newlywed couple winds up spending their honeymoon night in an old, dark, spooky mansion.

We start this off with Webster Frye (James Dunn) trying to get his fiancé on the phone. He’s unable to and he is annoyed. The operator even knows his voice and tells him the line is still busy. With him is his chauffeur, Harmony Jones (Sam McDaniel), during this scene. Webster does get the idea to send her an urgent telegram, telling her he is trying to call.

His fiancé is Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ Delong (Florence Rice). She has friends in her room with her as this is her wedding day. When the telegram arrives, she realizes how long she’s been on the phone and hangs up. It rings immediately. Their call sets up the plot. Jackie’s father bought them a house in the country. She wants to spend their honeymoon there. Webster is annoyed that she canceled their plane tickets as they’re supposed to go to California. He puts his foot down and they still end up at the country house.

They arrive and the place is rundown. It is a ‘fixer-upper’. Upon arriving, they see a man tying a noose. We learn that he is a former hangman who just did his last job. His name is Ben Bowron (Robert Dudley). This guy is here for a bit of comedy effect and he plays off Harmony going forward. Apparently, this house belonged to a gangster who was just executed, nicknamed Honey Boy.

Things take a dark turn when a casket is brought to the house, containing the body of the owner. Webster signs for it, believing it is their stuff. This causes issues and they call the police to fix it. Police Chief Bagwell (Jim Toney) fancies himself a crime writer and dictates to Herbie (Eddy Chandler), who is also a cop. They head out to the house to see the body and figure out what to do.

The cops aren’t alone. A group of gangsters also show up, looking for something hidden in the house by their associate. They’re led by Smoothie Lewis (Robert Bice) and he comes with Ted (Anthony Caruso), Harold (Eddie Foster), Little Sister Mabel (Mabel Todd) and Big Sister Josie (Renee Carson). The body that is in the coffin might not be who they think it is, as we see someone sneak out. Is Honey Boy dead like Ben said? Or did someone hitch a ride in it?

That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I want to start is that this is another poverty row film. It has a short runtime, which I can appreciate. It also has elements we’ve seen in other things. My biggest issue is that this is a comedy first. It feels like they’re trying to do an Abbott and Costello or a Laurel and Hardy style comedy with wordplay, but our cast isn’t strong enough for it. I’ve seen Dunn before in The Living Ghost. He did make me chuckle, but this isn’t constructed well enough for this to work.

Let me get to positives here though. I like the set up. Not necessarily one that would work today, but this is from the 1940s so I can roll with it. I like that Webster and Jackie are getting married. We see that they love each other, but also get under each other’s skin. That felt real. They go to this house and it isn’t what they expected. Honey Boy set it up with passages and other hidden things so elements of the ‘Old Dark House’ film are here. I’m a sucker there. I even like the different players that show up. We have gangsters that know something is here. The police are here so that complicates things. The same for Webster, Jackie, Harmony and Ben. This last one feels out of place, but it doesn’t ruin it. I like the basic premise for sure.

While I’m discussing the story, let me then discuss if this is horror or not. I don’t think it should necessarily be considered. We do have someone sneak out of the coffin. That is only creepy until we learn who that person is. There are these gangsters that end up holding our characters hostage. That is more of a crime film. ‘Old Dark House’ films aren’t necessarily horror either. I think what I’ve gone through here put it in the genre only because of the era it was made in.

Since this runs barely an hour, I think that is enough for the story and moving over to the acting. Despite what I said about the cast not being strong enough to carry the comedy, I don’t think anyone is bad. Dunn is probably the funniest here. I like his banter with Jackie as that felt real. I should also then that Rice is right there, performance-wise. They work the best as our leads and driving the ‘investigation’. Dudley and McDaniel also play well off each other as well. My only issue is that they have the latter playing a racist caricature. It is the time and if they didn’t have them this way, he wouldn’t be working so I’m not going trash the film beyond that. Todd, Carson, Bice, Anthony Warde, Caruso and Foster are all solid as the gangsters or the dames with them. They can be bumbling at times as well. The same for the two cops, Toney and Chandler. As I said, no one is bad while still not making this work as well as it probably could.

Then all that is left would be filmmaking. This is made well enough. I thought the cinematography was fine. Capturing the atmosphere of the setting as well as the ‘old dark house’ stuff is the best part. I do have a negative that this ends abruptly. I’m not sure if that was a budget thing or just no one cared to think out the story more. Regardless, it needed just a bit more to fully work. With a runtime of an hour, it wouldn’t take much there. I do believe this is a poverty row picture so that explains it. Other than that, the soundtrack was fine without necessarily standing out.

In conclusion, this is a decent film here. I like the ‘wrong place, wrong time’ narrative where our married couple and their chauffeur show up to a house that belonged to a gangster. Having the police and gangsters converge there build the crux of the story. This being a comedy doesn’t necessarily work. I wouldn’t even necessarily consider it horror. The cinematography to build the setting’s atmosphere was good. I’d say that the acting would be the next best part. The script isn’t strong enough though and the rest of the elements are fine. Not one I’d necessarily recommend unless you like this era or these poverty row films. Horror seekers I’d say could skip this for sure.


My Rating: 5 out of 10