A trio of carneys on their way to their next booking run across some stranded motorists by the side of the road. They help them out by giving them a lift, but their destination turns out to be a spooky mansion, and mystery and murder follows…
Painfully predictable old dark house shenanigans from low-budget Monogram studios and produced by legendary tightwad Sam Katzman. Screenwriter Tim Ryan serves up all the usual clichés we’ve come to expect from this sort of project, with the disembodied spook voice, a ‘haunted’ portrait, squeaking doors, double-takes, and characters returning with sceptical friends to the scene of their supernatural experiences, only to find that everything is normal now so that no-one believes them.
Our jolly japesters here are fat, moustachioed Billy Gilbert, ugly punching bag Shemp Howard and handsome Bernard Sell. The latter is the act’s manager, and the other two share performing duties with a real-life gorilla, which they cart around in a truck. Their act involves the old ‘gypsy switch’ with Howard standing in for the real deal in an ape costume and wowing the gullible rubes with his apparent intelligence. So, straight away, we know the ape’s going to get loose at some point and there will be plenty of hilarious cases of mistaken identity.
But it’s Sell’s insistence of playing good Samaritan that kicks off the plot, and it obviously has nothing to do with fetching blonde Jayne Hazard being one of the travellers stuck at the side of the road. Turns out she’s an heiress travelling with her uncle, his secretary and chauffeur Maxie Rosenbloom. When they arrive at the old homestead, they’re greeted by sinister housekeeper Minerva Urechal and things start to go bump in the night almost at once. Could the uncle’s shifty secretary be responsible, or is the culprit of a supernatural origin? There’s secret passages, clutching hands, a spook under a sheet and the gorilla escapes (oh, but you knew that already, didn’t you?)
This production marked the first of three pairings of Gilbert, Rosenbloom and Howard. Hard on its heels came ‘Three of a Kind’ (1944), followed by gangster comedy ‘Trouble Chasers’ (1944). Gilbert was an ex-vaudeville performer whose well-known ‘sneezing’ act led him to the appropriate voice work on Walt Disney’s ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937). This was followed by featured supporting roles in the classic ‘His Girl Friday’ (1940) and Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Great Dictator’ (1940). Rosenbloom was an ex-boxing champion who bartered his celebrity into a long and successful Hollywood career as ‘Slapsie Maxie’, mostly in comedies but occasionally in dramas such as the James Cagney/George Raft prison classic ‘Each Dawn I Die’ (1939). Of course, the most famous of the trio is Howard, who re-joined brothers Moe and Larry in the Three Stooges just two years later as a replacement for the ailing Curly. He had previously been part of the act in its earlier incarnation in the 1920s and 1930s, when they backed Ted Healy.
Screenplay writer Ryan had an unusual professional career for classic era Hollywood. As well as penning many ultra low-budget programmers, including entries in the ‘Bowery Boys’ series, he was also a successful radio and movie actor. His career in front of the camera did mostly involve dozens of bits as cops and bartenders, but he also appeared in ‘Champion’ (1949) with Kirk Douglas and had a minor, but featured, role in Oscar-winner ‘From Here To Eternity’ (1953).
Probably the most interesting aspect of this tired and cursory production line effort is its many connections with horror icon Bela Lugosi. For a start, the film was in the capable directorial hands of William ‘One Shot‘ Beaudine (he didn’t do re-takes!) who also delivered Lugosi as ‘The Ape-Man’ (1943), a film which also starred Urechal. In the ape suit here is actor Art Miles, who also donned the costume for the Ritz Brothers-Lugosi comedy ‘The Gorilla’ (1939) at 20th Century Fox. And, if all that wasn’t enough, Ryan was the guy who scripted ‘Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla’ (1952)!
A weak and formulaic bottom of the bill programmer. Totally forgettable.