I’ve tried several times to read the comic fantasy and satirical novels of Thorne Smith, without success. The sensibility is so much of another age that I just can’t understand. Dressing for dinner, butlers and maids, it just doesn’t work on the printed page. But it does in the movies, especially in this one. I first saw it when I was very young, and the story of two ghosts fascinated me. It became a television series with a different cast, and I loved every episode. (Writer of the pilot and some early episodes … Stephen Sondheim!) But it’s been a long time since I saw it. Would it hold up?
It does, but it’s in spite of the pedestrian direction by Norman Z McLeod. The comic timing and editing is sometimes off, and it’s clearly the director’s fault. If this had been made by Howard Hawks it would have been three times as good, which is frightening, as it’s already very fine. Funny thing, though. I remember Cary Grant as the star of the show, but he really isn’t given much to do. The picture is very much carried by Roland Young. Watch him pretend to be drunk, carried by two invisible ghosts, and marvel at how he carries it off without breaking his neck or ever looking anything but loose and relaxed. Must have been very hard. I was reminded of Steve Martin in All of Me, or Jim Carrey in Liar Liar, except Young is better than either of them.