What’s it About?
Wise-cracking ex-detective Nick Trayne is called in to try to find the whereabouts of wealthy kidnap victim Walter Craig.
“The Living Ghost” / Also known as “A Walking Nightmare”
Directed by William Beaudine
“The Living Ghost,” directed by William Beaudine (The Ape Man, Fury of the Dragon), is a zany, B movie mystery made by Monogram Pictures and distributed by Anglo Amalgamated in 1942. It’s a comedic romantic thriller that falls under the “quickie mystery” genre. You know the type. Big houses, murders, gumshoes, secret rooms behind bookshelves, butlers with insomnia and women in dresses and high heels oh and lots of screaming, too. This Beaudine thriller is quite frivolous, comedic and eventually forgettable but it has it’s charms in the right places for a film that only lasts a little over an hour.
Actor James Dunn (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) as “a sympathetic ear” (or a psychic more specifically) and private dick, Nick Trayne, is the reason to watch this shortie. He’s funny, breezy and wise cracking as he is brought in to investigate the kidnapping and then re-appearance of a wealthy businessman named Walter Craig (Gus Glassmire). Craig returns but seems as if he is now a sort of zombie. To help him, Trayne brings along the spunky and fast quipping Billie Hilton, played with zany hilarity by Joan Woodbury (The Ten Commandments, The Chinese Cat). As they try to solve a murder that happens after Craig returns, they engage in arguments with themselves and a large spooky house full of guests that are also suspects.
Dunn is the whole show here, with “The Living Ghost,” which is a good thing since the rest of this B detective movie’s proceedings are quite routine and unremarkable. We get more comedy than mystery in this movie as the film doesn’t really takes anything quite seriously. There are interrogation scenes that never linger long, full of fast talking and loud people. Most characters, including Dunn, talk with spitfire rapidity as they fling accusations at each other, get into hysterics and get no where. The film is also a romantic comedy of sorts that is appealing despite the fact that there is a murder investigation going on. We find out that Craig’s mind has been tampered with and that he may be manipulated into doing some unsavory things, like trying to stab Trayne.
I love these old quickies, though, even if they are silly and unreal. They inhabit a niche in the genre that is reserved for those who enjoy short comedies and mysteries all wrapped up in a nice black and white package. The film starts off pretty off beat but kind of fizzles off a bit about half an hour in. But Woodbury and Dunn carry this short flick well. The witty and cheeky banter and the goofy investigation is fun and flighty to watch.
Dunn looks like he’s having fun and he manages to help the rest of the dour cast shine in spots. The film is lighthearted, too, for a film about a zombie and manages to look imposing towards the end with moody lighting in a big house during a lightening storm. The final scenes, one where Trayne wakes up a sleeping household and eventually confronts the killer, are done well with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
“The Living Ghost” is a decent but somewhat cheesy B mystery that works due mostly to Dunn’s corny antics and delivery. For a murder mystery with light touches and that short and spooky appeal, this film from Beaudine isn’t a total loss. If you catch it one night on TCM or some other classics station it may help you drift off into a light sleep with a grin on your face. Just don’t expect to remember what you watched by the time morning comes along.
The Living Ghost (1942) is currently available on Netflix Streaming. Enjoy!