Let's Watch: The Ghost Breakers

I didn't have high hopes for The Ghost Breakers (the title doesn't really suggest many zombies), so I was pleasantly surprised to find it's a rather charming supernatural crime caper. Bob Hope as Lawrence Lawrence accidentally finds himself on a boat to Cuba after falling foul of the local mob boss. He and his sidekick Alex (Willie Best) become tangled in the spooky affairs of leading lady Mary (Paulette Goddard), and set themselves up as adhoc supernatural investigators, aiming to solve the mystery of Mary's island inheritance.

Best and Hope make a great team with real chemistry, and for that matter, so do Goddard and Hope. These things said, it's difficult in 2017 to sit through all the casual racism without cringing, but one point in the film's favour is that although Best's role is as the white man's faithful valet, he does get all the best lines, his character is smart and quick-thinking, and his dynamic with Hope is for the most part closer to that of equal friend and partner than you'll see in most films of this era.

Mary the heiress is spunky and chirpy, she's no damsel in distress. She's mostly unfazed when a purported murderer turns up in her hotel room, refuses to be flapped when her life is threatened at least 3 or 4 times, and when nobody will take her to a spooky island with a zombie on it after dark, she climbs into her swimming costume and makes her own damn way there alone. She doesn't get involved in a terrible love triangle either. A 10/10 movie heroine!

Zombies: there's only one. He's a zombie because of, as far as I can gather, Cuban Voodoo, which is not really a real thing that exists in the world. If we ignore the mislocation of Haitian Vodou into Cuba, the presentation of our zombie is quite a good one, and we can see the beginnings of the modern zombie shuffle here. Slow-moving, silent, and genuinely intimidating, this is also the first movie we've seen where the zombie presents a direct threat to the antagonists without being mind-controlled by a villainous sorcerer.

The film isn't public domain, but is pretty widely available. Subtitles are available on OpenSubtitles.

I give this enjoyable but racially discomfiting frolic 4 restless Cuban ghosts out of a possible 5!

4 / 5
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