Hold That Ghost

Hold That Ghost is a 1941 horror comedy film starring the comedy team of Abbott and Costello and featuring Joan Davis, Evelyn Ankers and Richard Carlson.[2]

Hold That Ghost
Theatrical release poster
Directed byArthur Lubin
Produced byBurt Kelly
Glenn Tryon
Written byRobert Lees
Fred Rinaldo
John Grant
StarringBud Abbott
Lou Costello
Richard Carlson
Joan Davis
Evelyn Ankers
Shemp Howard
The Andrews Sisters
Music byH.J. Salter
Edited byPhilip Cahn
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • August 6, 1941 (1941-08-06)
Running time
85 min
CountryUnited States
Budgetover $400,000[1]

On August 1, 1941, Abbott and Costello performed a live version of the film for radio audiences on Louella Parsons' Hollywood Premiere.


Gas station attendants Chuck Murray (Bud Abbott) and Ferdie Jones (Lou Costello) aspire to better jobs. Working as temp waiters at Chez Glamour, a high-class nightclub where Ted Lewis and The Andrews Sisters perform, Chuck and Ferdie cause a ruckus and are fired by the snooty maitre d' (Mischa Auer). Back at the service station, gangster "Moose" Mattson (William B. Davidson) brings his car in for gas. When he is spotted by the police, he speeds off with Chuck and Ferdie caught inside the vehicle. During the chase Matson trades shots with the police and is killed. According to the gangster's unconventional will, which states that whoever was with him when he died will inherit his estate, the boys inherit Mattson's rundown tavern, the Forrester's Club. Mattson had also given a cryptic clue about a hidden stash of money, stating that he "kept his money in his head," but its existence and location remain a mystery.

Mattson's attorney introduces the boys to an associate, Charlie Smith. Chuck and Ferdie are unaware that Smith (Marc Lawrence) is a member of Moose's gang and seeks the money. Smith has arranged for a wildcat bus to take them to their rural property. But the unscrupulous bus driver abandons them and three unrelated passengers—a doctor (Richard Carlson), a radio actress (Joan Davis) and a waitress (Evelyn Ankers)--at the Forrester's Club during a heavy rainstorm.

As the night progresses, strange things happen. Smith disappears while searching the basement, and his corpse turns up unexpectedly several times. The water in the tavern is undrinkable. Ferdie's bedroom is rigged to transform into a casino with hidden gambling equipment. The girls are scared by what appears to be a ghost. Two detectives show up but vanish soon after starting their investigation. While Ferdie examines a map to find the quickest route back to town, candles on the table move mysteriously and scare him.

Ferdie inadvertently discovers Moose's treasure hidden inside the stuffed moose head over the fireplace. A disgruntled member of Moose's gang appears and demands the money at gunpoint. The boys manage to knock him out, but other gang members appear. Chuck and the doctor fight two of them off, while others chase Ferdie, who has the loot, through the building. Ferdie scares all the gangsters off by imitating the sound of a police siren. The doctor announces that the tavern's unsavory water has valuable therapeutic properties, and Ferdie and Chuck transform the place into a posh health resort. The boys hire Ted Lewis and The Andrews Sisters to headline, and the maitre d' who fired them from Chez Glamour turns up as a temp waiter.


Bud AbbottChuck Murray
Lou CostelloFerdinand Jones
Richard CarlsonDr. Jackson
Joan DavisCamille Brewster
Evelyn AnkersNorma Lind
Marc LawrenceCharlie Smith
Mischa AuerGregory
Shemp HowardSoda Jerk
Russell HicksBannister (Matson's attorney)
William B. DavidsonMoose Matson
Ted Lewis and his OrchestraThemselves
The Andrews SistersThemselves
Milton ParsonsBus Driver
Harry HaydenJenkins
Paul FixLefty


Hold that Ghost (working title: Oh, Charlie) was made immediately after Buck Privates, from January 21 through February 24, 1941, on a budget of $190,000. The original screenplay opened with Chuck and Ferdie working at their gas station and featured many scenes of Mattson's gang planning or attempting to scare the boys out of the tavern.[3] At the climax, another faction of Mattson's gang who had escaped from prison arrives and the rival groups fight over the loot, which turns out to be counterfeit. The state police, who had picked up the wildcat bus driver, arrive and arrest the gang members. Chuck and Ferdie are still able to open a resort based on the therapeutic properties of the well water.[4]

Lubin said the film "had more of a plot" than Buck Privates. "It was more or less straight comedy."[5]

As the film was nearing completion, Buck Privates became one of Universal's all-time biggest hits. Oh, Charlie's release was delayed so that the studio could hastily make and release a second Abbott and Costello service comedy, In the Navy.[6] Universal then put Oh, Charlie back into production in mid-May to append the opening and closing of the film with musical numbers by the Andrews Sisters (who appeared in both service comedies) and bandleader Ted Lewis. New scenes were written and others were re-shot for continuity purposes. These revisions were scripted primarily by Edmund L. Hartmann without credit.[4] Upgrading Oh, Charlie cost anywhere from $25,000 to $150,000 according to different studio sources.[4] In June 1941 the picture was retitled Hold That Ghost.[4]

A 30-minute radio adaptation was performed by Abbott and Costello on Louella Parsons' program, Hollywood Premiere, one week before the film was released.[4]


Upon the film's release it received almost unanimously positive reviews. The Motion Picture Herald reported, "Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, they’ve done it again. In fact by count and with witnesses, the Messrs. Abbott and Costello got more, louder and longer laughs in ‘Hold That Ghost’ at its Hollywood preview than they did in ‘Buck Privates’ or ‘In the Navy.’ Veritably, it is to be doubted if any two comedians ever got so many laughs in one picture any time, anywhere."[4]

The Hollywood Reporter added, "[T]he laughs come so fast and furious that a great many lines are entirely drowned out. At one point, about half the audience was saying ‘Sh’ to the other half."[4]

Motion Picture Daily called it "by far the corniest comedy the Abbott and Costello duo has committed, but don’t get me wrong—for 'corniest' is, in this case, a synonym for best.[4] Variety called the picture "a slam-bang and knockabout comedy, silly and ridiculous, but a laugh-creator and audience-pleaser.”[4]

Critics did complain about the superfluous musical numbers. The Philadelphia Inquirer was typical: “…Universal dusted off Ted Lewis and the Andrews Sisters, inserting them in nightclub sequences fore and aft to add a bit of ‘name’ value. For our money…they only pad out the picture…”[4] The New York Times considered the film "immensely funny" but also criticized its musical numbers and, as a result, its length.

The film continues to receive favorable reviews. Over 2700 IMDB contributors give it a rating of 7.6/10. Rotten Tomatoes reports that 100% of critics gave the film positive write-ups based on six reviews, and 90% of 780 users liked it, with an average rating of 4.2/5.[7] Film critic Leonard Maltin gave the film three out of four stars and noted it as "Prime A&C."[8]Allmovie contributor Hal Erickson gave the film three out of a possible five stars and stated that the "moving candle" scene might be "Costello's funniest-ever screen scene."[9] Abbott and Costello biographer Jim Mulholland has described it as the "team's best film next to Buck Privates."


Hold that Ghost was re-released twice, in 1948 and 1949, along with Hit the Ice.[6]

Home media

This film has been released on VHS three times: 1982, 1988 and 1991. It was released twice on DVD. The first time, on The Best of Abbott and Costello Volume One, on February 10, 2004, and again on October 28, 2008 as part of Abbott and Costello: The Complete Universal Pictures Collection.


  1. Furmanek p 57-59
  2. Vagg, Stephen (14 September 2019). "The Cinema of Arthur Lubin". Diabolique Magazine.
  3. Palumbo, Ron (2018). Hold That Ghost: The Original Filmscript MagicImage Filmscript Series. ISBN 978-1-629-33300-7
  4. "Palumbo; 2018"
  5. Flynn, Charles; McCarthy, Todd (1975). "Arthur Lubin". In Flynn, Charles; McCarthy, Todd (eds.). Kings of the Bs : working within the Hollywood system : an anthology of film history and criticism. E. P. Dutton. p. 366.
  6. Furmanek, Bob and Ron Palumbo (1991). Abbott and Costello in Hollywood. New York: Perigee Books. ISBN 0-399-51605-0
  7. "Hold That Ghost (Oh, Charlie) Movie Reviews, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  8. Maltin, Leonard. Leonard Maltin's 2009 Movie Guide. Penguin Books. p. 617. ISBN 978-0-452-28978-9.
  9. Erickson, Hal. "Hold That Ghost > Overview - Allmovie". Allmovie. Retrieved 11 January 2010.

Further reading

  • Palumbo, Ron. Hold That Ghost: The Original Filmscript. Albany: BearManor Media, 2018. ISBN 978-1-629-33300-7
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