Nick Trayne (James Dunn) used to be a star detective, but he’s no longer solving mysteries. Instead, he masquerades as “Brother Trayne,” charging people two bucks to tell him their problems and doling out nonsense advice. It’s a much more leisurely lifestyle than that which he led as a super-sleuth.
Nick’s about to make his grand return to the sleuthing business, though, when he’s called on by Ed Moline (Paul McVey) to find out what happened to Ed’s friend, wealthy banker Walter Craig, who has gone missing. Accompanying Ed to the office of “Brother Trayne” is Walter’s secretary, Billie Hilton (Joan Woodbury), who is eager to take part in Nick’s investigation.
Upon arrival at Walter Craig’s home, Nick meets Walter’s wife Helen (Edna Johnson), his sister Delia (Minerva Urecal), Delia’s husband George (J. Arthur Young), his daughter Tina (Jan Wiley), Tina’s fiance Arthur (Howard Banks) and his business partner Tony (George Eldredge). Soon, Walter himself shows up as well… but in a zombie-like state, with no resemblance to his former self.
Everyone’s a suspect in The Living Ghost, a 1942 mystery-comedy directed by William Beaudine. The film was written by Joseph Hoffman from an original story by Howard Dimsdale.
The Living Ghost is an exceptionally fun little B-movie. It isn’t a true horror and as such may not be quite fitting for a series called Horror Half-Week, but it’s still seasonally appropriate, and it does have a zombie-man! (I blame Netflix for the lack of legitimate horror in this three-day series, as I chose all three of the films ahead of time based on the site’s categorization system.) The atmosphere and spooky mood-building do improve during the second half of the film, as Billie and Nick pursue the killer on a dark and stormy night.
Blending comedy, romance and mystery to weave the tale of what happened to a missing man, The Living Ghost is lacking in true thrills and jumpy moments, but it’s a whole lot of fun to watch. There are a number of hilarious gags (like a fast-talking, nonsense-spewing man “even more eccentric than Brother Trayne” encountered by Ed and Billie when they visit Nick at the office of “Brother Trayne the Sympathetic Ear” to ask for his help), and a goldmine of witty quips. These slightly cheesy pieces of banter are usually shared between Nick and Billie, such as the following:
Nick: “I’ll see you in my dreams.”
Billie: “If I see you in mine, it’ll be a nightmare!”
Great dialogue isn’t the only thing this film has going for it. The performances are all very good. Joan Woodbury and James Dunn (who would later win an Oscar for his performance in 1945’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) have great chemistry and carry the film very well.
Also tossed in for good measure are plenty of fun little nods to the “haunted house” genre of spooky film. A scream wakes everyone in the middle of the night; a sleepwalking man attempts to stab Nick; secret doorways are hidden within bookshelves. All of this adds a light element of spoof to The Living Ghost. Though satire isn’t the story’s focus, it’s a nice touch that even further increases the audience’s level of enjoyment.
Running at just 61 minutes, The Living Ghost is very well worthy of a watch for all of you fellow B-movie/mystery-comedy fans.