Name: The Living Ghost
Release Date: 1942
Writers: Howard Dimsdale (story); Joseph Hoffman (screenplay)
Director: William Beaudine
James Dunn: Nick Trayne
Joan Woodbury: Billie Hilton
Paul McVey: Ed Moline
Vera Gordon: Sister Lapidus
Norman Willis: Cedric, the Butler
J. Farrell MacDonald: Police Lt. ‘Pete’ Peterson
Minerva Urecal: Delia Phillips
George Eldredge: Tony Weldon
Jan Wiley: Tina Craig
Edna Johnson: Helen Craig
Danny Beck: Doubletalker
Gus Glassmire: Walter Craig
Lawrence Grant: Dr. Bruhling
Howard Banks: Arthur Wallace
J. Arthur Young: George Phillips
Run-Time: 61 mins.
Studio: Monogram Pictures
That’s not to say that there’s anything shockingly original about “The Living Ghost.” The production values are strictly Poverty Row. And you could fit the plot onto the back of a ticket stub: Wise-cracking PI Nick Trayne (Dunn) gets to called in to solve the disappearance of a millionaire banker.
Along the way, he finds himself trying to crack a murder, forcing him to rely on his wits and Gal Friday-turned-love interest Billie Hilton (Woodbury).
Dunn, a journeyman actor who later went on to win a Best Supporting Oscar for 1945’s “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” makes the best of the material he’s handed, frequently breaking the fourth wall to bring the audience in on the joke.
One such moment involves an interaction with a cadaverous butler and Dunn/Trayne’s wryly musing: “Why are there always butlers in murder mysteries?”
There’s genuine chemistry between Dunn and Woodbury, whose romance percolates along in a junior grade Hepburn/Tracy kind of way. Still, you can’t help but root for them through a series of increasingly implausible plot twists that includes a shoehorned visit to a haunted house.
Clocking in at an efficient 61 minutes — most likely because that’s all the story and budget that the filmmakers had available to them — there’s nonetheless an object lesson here for modern directors who seem to think that their gigantic budgets have to mean films that roll on past their logical conclusions.
And that’s this: Sometimes all it takes for a movie to succeed is a well-paced story with actors who genuinely seem to care about the job they’re doing.
“The Living Ghost” will never make anyone’s “Best Of” list, but it does embody a brand of entertainment that’s mostly MIA at the multiplex.