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Film / Hold That Ghost

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Hold that Ghost is a 1941 Horror Comedy film starring the comedy duo of Abbott and Costello, directed by Arthur Lubin and costarring Richard Carlson, Joan Davis, Evelyn Ankers, and Mischa Auer, with special appearances by The Andrews Sisters and Ted Lewis. Generally remembered as one of A&C's better pictures, it offers an early peek into what the pair could do with the kind of material they would put to good use in such later films as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Gas station attendants Chuck Murray (Abbott) and Ferdie Jones (Costello) dream of better lives, with Ferdie aiming to own a nightclub one day. Unfortunately, their employment as relief waiters at the high-class Chez Glamour ends badly when they cause a ruckus. Some time later, the infamous gangster "Moose" Mattson (William B. Davidson) stops by their gas station for a refill and a cleaning, but is spotted by the police. Mattson speeds off, with the boys as his unwilling passengers, but gets shot and killed. Since they were the closest people to him at the time of his death, Chuck and Ferdie turn out to be Mattson's inheritors, and are given ownership of the Forrester's Club, a run-down nightspot in a remote area which Moose had owned. Somewhere on the premises is a hidden stash of money which was never found, the only clue being that Moose had told people he kept it "in his head". Chuck and Ferdie take a bus out to inspect the property for themselves, along with one Charlie Smith (Marc Lawrence), who unbeknown to the boys was an ex-associate of Moose's. Chuck and Ferdie are abandoned by the bus driver just outside the club along with their fellow passengers, including Smith, a Dr. Jackson (Carlson), a radio actress named Camille Brewster (Davis), and a waitress named Norma Lind (Ankers). As a bad storm closes in, everybody heads inside the club for shelter. Soon night comes, and strange things begin to happen — Smith is murdered while searching the basement, and candles and other things start moving on their own. As secret passages and hidden gambling machines are found all over the Forrester's Club — leftovers from Prohibition, when the place was a speakeasy — it becomes easier for the group to believe the old place is haunted... or, at least, that someone has come back there with unfinished business.

This movie contains examples of:

  • Animated Credits Opening: Has a brief one with a ghost floating out of a haunted house and scaring silhouettes of Abbott and Costello away.
  • Bedsheet Ghost: One of them turns up to menace the girls, then arrives again to scare Camille and Ferdie.  It's actually just a mobster in a sheet.
  • Bookends: The movie begins and ends in a swanky nightclub with Ted Lewis and the Andrews Sisters performing... but at the end, Chuck and Ferdie own the nightclub in question.
  • Cannot Talk to Women: Dr. Jackson gets distracted easily by his work, much to Norma's annoyance.
  • Exact Words: Moose always said he kept his money's location in his head... turns out he was speaking literally, as it's hidden in a stuffed moose head in the Forrester's Club.
  • The Flapping Dickey: At the end of the film, the two main characters are running a party when Costello's character, Freddie Jones, encounters a maitre d', who had fired them from an earlier job, working as a temp waiter. Freddie tweaks the waiter's dignity by ordering him to fix his tie, fix his vest and to pull down his shirt, at which point, his dicky pops up and rolls up in classic scroll-like fashion.
  • Gambit Pileup: Several gangsters show up to quietly murder each other in the secret passages and tunnels in the walls of the Forrester's Club, and the winners turn up at the end to menace the heroes.
  • Gangland Drive-By: A group of gangsters in a car – including Smith – try to gun Chuck and Ferdie down outside a lawyers' office. Fortunately, all that happens is Ferdie suffering some Hat Damage.
  • Genre Savvy: When Ferdie discovers a hidden closet door, he assumes there's a body inside, having watched his share of murder mysteries. He's half-right: Charlie Smith's corpse is hidden in the curtains next to the door. Later, Charlie's body does end up hidden in the closet after disappearing for awhile.
  • The Glasses Gotta Go: Played completely straight when the male romantic lead cleans his glasses in front of the female lead.
  • High Hopes, Zero Talent: Ferdie wants more than anything to be the manager of a nightclub someday — except he has no connections, status, or skill at... much of anything. 
  • If It Tastes Bad, It Must Be Good for You: It turns out the Forrester's Club's nasty-tasting water has medicinal and therapeutic properties, and it lets Ferdie and Chuck ultimately retool the place into a health resort.
  • Ironic Echo: At the beginning, a snooty club manager barks orders at Ferdie and threatens to fire him if he steps out of line. At the end, Ferdie has a club of his own and ends up delivering the same Drill Sergeant Nasty routine word-for-word to the same guy, who now works for him!
  • It Was Here, I Swear!: A few times, when Smith's body goes missing, and when Ferdie doesn't put together why the rooms change into gambling dens, unaware that his hanging his clothes on a certain hook causes them to change... and taking his clothes with him when he runs out of the room yelling for Chuck.
  • Luck-Based Search Technique: Ferdie uncovers several of the old building's secrets this way, by bumping a support, or hanging his clothes on a certain hook.
  • May–December Romance: Ferdie waits on a young woman and a much older man at Chez Glamour, with heavy hints at the latter being a Sugar Daddy... it doesn't end well.
  • Nerd Glasses: The only character who wears glasses is the slightly awkward Dr. Jackson, a doctor and nutritionist.
  • Old, Dark House: The Forrester's Club is the hotel version, but it hasn't been used in years. Now, it's a spooky old property that may or may not be haunted, full of secret passages and with a few rooms that can turn into gambling dens.
  • Out-of-Context Eavesdropping: Early on, as a waiter approaches the kitchen at Chez Glamour, he hears someone inside claim they'll "shoot" if someone else doesn't "put that dough on the table". Turns out Ferdie and Chuck were organizing a craps game inside.
  • Parental Bonus:
    Ferdie: I play games. I play post office.
    Camille: That's a kid's game.
    Ferdie: Not the way I play it!
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: Charlie Smith is murdered early on in the night, and his body keeps falling out of closets and drapes and such.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: When Ferdie finds Moose's seemingly-unloaded pistol in his car, he fools around with it for a moment before it goes off, attracting the cops and kicking off the plot.
  • Reflexive Response: Camille is being followed down the stairs by a man with a sheet over his head who's miming her footsteps to hide his own. She gets suspicious, and taps out "shave and a haircut" with her feet and his cover is blown when he finishes with the "two bits."
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: The spooky goings-on were caused by mobsters trying to find Moose's hidden stash of money.
  • Screaming Woman: Camille has made a career out of being one on the radio, but ironically, she just hitches her breath in and goes silent when she gets scared in reality... while Norma lets out a tremendous shriek. Camille becomes this in reality later on when she's scared by a Bedsheet Ghost.
  • Secret Room: A few of them are found throughout the house, along with a few Secret Path-type passages hidden in the walls.
  • Shave And A Haircut: When Camille fears she's being followed downstairs but is too scared to turn around, she stomps out "Shave and a haircut" on the last step... and the Bedsheet Ghost finishes with "Two bits".
  • Slapstick: A dance between Ferdie and Camille turns into a slapstick routine, mostly due to Ferdie's clumsiness.
  • Spanner in the Works: Moose and a few gangsters around him had their own plans, ideas, and cases of Chronic Backstabbing Disorder – but it was all completely undone by Ferdie accidentally attracting the cops' attention and getting Moose killed.
  • Unexpected Inheritance: Due to Moose's "profession", he never knew who he could trust. Therefore, he left his money to whoever was closest to him at the moment of his death — and it just happened to be two hapless gas station attendants.
  • Voice Changeling: Near the end, Ferdie displays an impressive talent for this when he mimics a police siren to scare all the gangsters away.