The very genre of comedy owes an insurmountable debt of gratitude to many of its unsung screenwriters who worked hard to give us an uncontrollable case of the sillies with the timeless gems of yesteryear. Such an arrears almost doubles when it comes to crafting a truly genuine piece of "the funny" during a time of worldwide apprehension - such as war. While the patriotic men and women of the United States were certainly in need of a good laugh, such a thing wasn't always at their beck and call. Sure, on one hand, you had Bud Abbott and Lou Costello busily selling billions of dollars in War Bonds via their coast-to-coast tours, USO shows, and wonderful World War II-era musical comedies - all of which was in the name of Uncle Sam.
And then there was Uncle Miltie.
Released in 1942, the shockingly flaccid comedy-thriller Whispering Ghosts stars the one and only Milton Berle (yes, I used the word "flaccid" on purpose, kids) as H. H. Van Buren: a radio program host of dubious worth who comes up with solutions for unsolved mysteries. Both his listeners as well as his sponsor (the makers of a cold remedy) take his word for gospel, which is mostly due to the fact that the Internet had not yet been invented. However, when Van Buren brings the famous unsolved murder of a ship captain into the fray, he winds up having to do some actual on-site research - which not takes him to the dead man's decrepit vessel, but into the arms of several truly weird coots to boot.
Brenda Joyce is our heroine of the story, who - as was stereotypical of the time - is not the brightest knife in the crayon box. Here, she plays the heiress of the late captain, whose life winds up being threatened by a group of thugs keen on getting their hands on an alleged fortune in jewels her inheritance is said to have hidden somewhere within. John Carradine and Renie Riano play a couple of actors who have been hired by Berle's radio rival to scare him off, and Edmund MacDonald and Grady Sutton are two gents who happen to wander onto the ship to seek shelter from bad weather (!) when the already-weak script suddenly decides to take a dark-and-stormy-night approach. Despite some pretty moan-worthy gags, Berle still manages to make an amusing crack or two; comments that, usually (and sadly) are at the expense of his sidekick, Willie Best - who, in another stereotypical part, plays the black fellow who's scared of his own shadow, and who is on the receiving end of lines like "That's the first time I ever saw a blackout with eyes!" Sigh.
Charles Halton and Milton Parsons also co-star (in very small roles). Alfred L. Werker (who turned in a much better mystery, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, in 1939) directs a screenplay by Philip MacDonald (who penned several Mr. Moto scripts, as well as the excellent Karloff/Lugosi vehicle, The Body Snatcher from 1945). B-Picture backer Sol M. Wurtzel produced this quickie mess.
While most of the recent releases hailing from the Fox Cinema Archives have provided to us via surprisingly crisp and clean prints, I have to say the special feature-less DVD-R release of Whispering Ghosts is a bit of a literal washout overall. It's certainly viewable and passable for the most part, but there are some scenes that indicate this could have been mastered from a film or video dupe. Nevertheless, this is the first official issue of this otherwise forgettable comedy, and is worth a view just for curiosity's sake if nothing else.