Ghosts on the Loose(1943)
Director: William Beaudine
Cast: Bela Lugosi, East Side Kids, Ava Gardner
Follow-up to the previous years, Spooks Run Wild, is decidely watered down, as the horror elements take a back seat to contemporary propaganda about nazis and such. Unlike the last film, Lugosi has very little to actually do in this picture, besides skulk and appear in place of a portrait, where many claim he sneezes something akin to "oh shit!"
Most of the Monogram films were far from classics to begin with, but could be awfully entertaining. This one skips the entertaining and opts to be just plain awful. I first saw this picture as a child, when I recieved the video as a gift. In hindsight, I could understand why my parents thought it was a good idea; it had comedy and Bela Lugosi and was public domain(translation:cheap), so it appeared like a good find.
However, the film offers little in the way of excitement and still ranks at the bottom of the "Monogram 9" that Lugosi made.
Part of the problem is that Lugosi is given so little to do, being reduced to a background character and having very little interaction with the kids. Far too much of the films running time is devoted to the kids prepping for Huntz Hall's sister's wedding(and it's a pretty colossal shock to see Hall's sister played by a young Ava Gardner!) and Lugosi dosen't even make an appearance until nearly halfway through the picture!
The last half has the kids cleaning the house of the young couple, to prepare it for their honeymoon. Of course, it's the wrong house and is instead the home of a few nazis. The title means less than Spooks Run Wild, as very little in the means of supernatural or spooky occurences occur and the film bogs down pretty fast. At least, when the cops arrive, do we see a scene of Lugosi getting knocked in the head by a trusty mop. Now, that's entertainment!
Ghosts on the Loose's main sin is the lack of Lugosi material. The East Side Kids films were generally mediocre programmers to begin with, only saved by the "charm" of the young cast. While, those films have a certain appeal, and i've always enjoyed the byplay between actors Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall, the material here is weaker than usual and not well integrated. In Spooks Run Wild, there's a genuine sense of fun at hand and even small bits of suspense. This film has neither the pace or punch of that film and Lugosi's only memorable bit is the supposed flub that has become somewhat legendary. Most of the picture is dated and not in a good way, offering little nostalgia or cheap thrills to keep most interested. I've seen the film a few times over the years, but it seems that my six year old self was pretty wise to this film's weakness and for once, I find myself agreeing with him.