The Ghost Breakers (1940)


The movie The Ghost Breakers (1940) is an American mystery/horror comedy film directed by George Marshall and starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. The film was adapted by screenwriter Walter DeLeon as the third film version of the 1909 play The Ghost Breaker by Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard¹.

The film unfolds in 1940 Manhattan amidst a tumultuous thunderstorm. Larry Lawrence, a radio broadcaster, unveils the illicit activities of mob boss Frenchy Duval. Concurrently, Mary Carter, who is listening to the broadcast in her hotel suite, receives a visit from Mr. Parada, a menacing Cuban lawyer. He hands over the deed to her inheritance—a plantation and mansion in Cuba. Despite Parada’s reservations, Mary decides to journey by ship to inspect her new property.

As Larry wraps up his program, he receives a call from Frenchy himself, inviting Larry to his hotel. Coincidentally, Frenchy resides on the same floor as Mary. Upon arrival, Larry discharges his firearm, mistakenly believing he has killed a man, oblivious to the fact that the actual assailant is further down the corridor. Seeking refuge, Larry sneaks into Mary’s suite and hides in her spacious trunk. Unaware of Larry’s presence, Mary locks the trunk and arranges for its transportation to the harbor.

At the dock, Larry’s valet, Alex, rummages through the luggage and discovers Larry. Although he doesn’t manage to prevent the trunk’s transfer to the ship’s hold in time, Alex boards the ship to rescue his employer before the ship sets sail. During the voyage, Larry and Mary strike up a flirtation. They then encounter Mary’s acquaintance, Geoff Montgomery, a young intellectual who enthralls them with tales of Caribbean superstitions, particularly voodoo, ghosts, and zombies. Upon reaching Havana, Mary, Larry, and Alex journey to her new island estate. Along the way, they stumble upon a shack inhabited by an elderly woman and her catatonic son, whom they suspect is a zombie. The trio explores the old, deserted mansion and uncovers a large portrait of a woman who bears a striking resemblance to Mary. Soon, they are terrorized by a ghost. They then encounter the “zombie”, whom Alex traps in a closet. Parada arrives next, but he is fatally stabbed and placed in a casket. Larry and Mary discover him; Parada’s final act is to reveal to them access to a secret passage under the house. As the couple draw closer to the lost treasure, Parada’s murderer attempts to kill them, but this sets off a trap that causes him to plummet through the basement floor to his death. Larry, Mary, and Alex leave the island after claiming Mary’s right to her fortune. As Larry alludes to his plans for his and Mary’s eventual honeymoon, the film draws to a close.


  • Bob Hope as Larry Lawrence
  • Paulette Goddard as Mary Carter
  • Richard Carlson as Geoff Montgomery
  • Paul Lukas as Parada
  • Willie Best as Alex
  • Pedro de Cordoba as Havez
  • Virginia Brissac as Mother Zombie
  • Noble Johnson as The Zombie
  • Anthony Quinn as Ramon Mederos
  • Tom Dugan as Raspy Kelly
  • Paul Fix as Frenchy Duval
  • Lloyd Corrigan as Martin


The Ghost Breakers was adapted from the 1909 play The Ghost Breaker by Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard [2].

The play was filmed twice as a silent film, in 1914 (directed by Cecil B. DeMille), and in 1922. Both silent versions are considered lost [2].

The play was filmed a final time as “Scared Stiff (1953)”, starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. [2]

Bob Hope made a cameo appearance in the film [2].


One review from The New York Times describes: “A hand reaches out of the darkness or a sinister figure appears through the gloom; Miss Goddard casts her fear-shattered self into Mr. Hope’s trembling arms, and he, witty fellow that he is, pops out a withering gag. Some are bad enough to throw any spook that ever lived, but most of them are lively snappers which chase the creepiest chill with a laugh. As a consequence, the picture leaps nimbly along from gag to gag, never making much sense but always making merry.The story in such a case is, obviously, incidental.” [5]

Another review from states: “What follows is a brilliant comedy with Bob Hope providing his trademark fast-talking patter and nervous energy that borders on volcanic at times, and once again the chemistry between Paulette Goddard and Hope is simply amazing and the fact that Goddard’s character isn’t your typical damsel in distress makes this pairing a highlight of the genre. These are two cinema legends at the top of their game and the balancing act of thrills and laughs is handled beautifully by director George Marshall and cinematographer Charles Lang who creates a dark and foreboding world that is one part film noir and two parts Universal horror movie. ” [4]


[1] Wikipedia
[2] IMDb
[5] The New York Times

Last updated byCody Meirick on November 29, 2023