The Live Ghost

Film Review by Dean Duncan Sep 10, 2015

Here we find Stan & Ollie playing a pair of shanghai-ers. It’s true that they were, themselves, somewhat pressed into this unsavoury service. On the other hand, they’re sure pitching in with a will. What nerve! It’s like making a pro-scab movie.

In other news, one of the impressed sailors turns out to be an utter drunk, who has a connection with the more or less unregenerate rummy played by the formidable Mae Busch. Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie had premiered a decade previous, with the film version being released quite recently. Charles Jackson/Billy Wilder’s wouldn’t come along for quite some time. Those two texts are very insightful about alcoholism and addiction, mindful of causes, with a measure of kindness for the afflicted.

Alternatively, comic drunks are from forever. That’s the spectrum, more or less. But The Live Ghost is something else altogether. It isn’t really drawing upon the typed traditions of the commedia, or of the Music Hall. It has some of the naturalism of those other two texts, but environment and heredity are hardly the point. Rather, mercilessness, and unapologetically laughing at it. The film’s conclusion even ups that. Let’s just say that, inadvertent or no, Let the Right One In seems to have taken some inspiration from this unregenerate forebear. Yes, we’ll stand by our oft and o’er-repeated point that this is one of the sweetest outputs in the cinema. But once in a while …