• Invisible Ghost, The

    Released by: Kino Studio Classics
    Released on: March 21st, 2017.
    Director: Joseph H. Lewis
    Cast: Bela Lugosi, Polly Ann Young, Clarence Muse, Betty Compson, Ernie Admas
    Year: 1941
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    The first of nine films Bela Lugosi made with producer Sam Katzman for Monogram in the 1940’s, The Invisible Ghost tells the story of one Dr. Charles Kessler (Bela Lugosi, cast here in his first starring role in quite some time) a well-respected physician recently retired. The movie begins on the eve of his wedding anniversary where he is understandably morose – his wife (Betty Compson) left him some time ago. Regardless, Kessler’s butler, Evans (Clarence Muse), serves dinner for two as he’s directed – complete with fancy dinnerware and candles - even though Mrs. Kessler is nowhere to be seen.

    What neither Charles nor anyone else in the family home realizes is that Kessler’s wife was in a car accident some time ago and now lives underneath one of the estate’s outlying buildings where the well-meaning gardener, Jules (Ernie Adams), occasionally brings her food. Jules doesn’t know that when he’s not keeping an eye on her, the former lady of the house is skulking about the grounds undercover of the darkness. When Charles sees her while looking longingly out his window one night, she seems to be able to put him under some kind of spell wherein he sneaks up on people and strangles them with his bathrobe!

    After he’s murdered Cecile (Terry Walker), the blonde maid, her ex, Ralph Dixon (John McGuire), now involved with Kessler’s lovely daughter Virginia (Polly Ann Young) wonders if something is amiss. See, Kessler has no memory of his nocturnal killing sprees and since Evans saw Ralph arguing with Cecile before her death, the poor guy is wrangled up by the fuzz and sentenced to be executed for the crime we all know he didn’t commit. Things get even more complicated with Ralph’s twin brother Paul (McGuire again) shows up out of nowhere, having just returned from a trip to Africa and hoping to clear his brother’s good name before it is too late! Meanwhile, the mysterious murders continue, with Kessler none the wiser as to his proclivity for murder.

    The Invisible Ghost is, in a word, fun. It’s not deep and it isn’t quite as suspenseful as it probably could have been simply because we know Kessler is the killer from the very first murder scene, but it is sixty-three minutes of genuinely solid low budget entertainment. If the movie’s sets aren’t as impressive as they might have been had the picture been set in a creepy old castle or mansion rather than what looks like a nice, upscale suburban home but it works. The cinematography is far better than you might expect for a poverty row picture, with some genuinely creative camerawork adding the right emphasis to certain scenes (the most obvious being the shot where Lugosi first sees Compson wandering the grounds beneath his window). The library music might sound familiar to some, but it’s no less effective for it and for a film made fast and cheap, the production values at least appear to be reasonably high this time around.

    Performances are solid across the board. Polly Ann Young is quite good here, making you wonder why she didn’t go on to a lengthier career (this is covered in the commentary), while John McGuire does fine work his dual role. Clarence Muse, who starred alongside Lugosi a few years prior in White Zombie, is enjoyable as the butler while Betty Compson in a largely silent role has an unusually imposing screen presence as the estranged wife. The real star, however, is top billed Lugosi cast here somewhat against type as a genuinely sympathetic character. He does well in the part, making us feel for him as he longs for his lost love, but also appearing with just the right amount of menace in the scenes where he’s commanded to kill. It’s a good part for the actor and he truly makes the most of the opportunity, making it easy to see why he’d go on to make eight more pictures for Katzman in the not too distant future.


    The Invisible Ghost arrives on a 25GB Blu-ray disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition picture framed at 1.33.1 and it looks good, with proper framing. We get a nice upgrade in terms of detail and texture and improved black levels over what DVD would have been able to provide, even if this stops short of shining the way a reference quality transfer can. There’s a bit more print damage than some might want but it’s mostly all minor stuff rather than really glaring or distracting scratches or splice marks (though occasionally you might spot some vertical scratches on the right side of the frame). For some reason the first half of the movie looks considerably cleaner than the last half, but eve the last half still looks pretty good. Compression artifacts are never a problem though some darker scenes look a little noisy. The image appears to be free of any heavy noise reduction or edge enhancement but there are moments where contrast gets a bit dicey. The good most certainly outweighs the bad, however, and this is a solid picture if not a perfect one.

    The only audio option on the disc is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, there are no alternate language tracks provided but removable English subtitles are available. The clarity is generally fine, though there are bits that sound a little flat, which likely stems back to the source. Minor hiss is present once or twice but if you’re not listening for it you probably won’t be bothered by it though some of the sound effects demonstrate some noticeable reverb.

    The main extra on the disc is an audio commentary track with film historians Tom Weaver and with occasional pre-recorded insight provided also by Gary Rhodes, Larry Blamire, Robert Tinnell and Dr. Robert J. Kiss. Weaver, who penned the book Poverty Row Horrors!: Monogram, PRC And Republic Horror Films Of The Forties, clearly not only knows his stuff but has an enthusiasm for the material. As such, he’s able to do a fine job of laying out where this movie falls in alongside other starring vehicles for Lugosi made before and after the picture, the various titles under which the film was initially developed, the involvement of producer Sam Katzman, details of the sets used for the picture and lots of other details about the cast and crew involved in the picture. Rhodes chimes in on meeting director Lewis in the nineties and talking to him about Lugosi, Blamire talks about the ‘old dark house’ qualities that are infused in the picture, Tinnell covers how a certain scene in the movie inspired him to try something similar in one of his films and how he first discovered the picture as a kid while Kiss provides a very thorough overview of The Invisible Ghost’s theatrical play.

    Outside of that, we get a few bonus trailers (White Zombie, The Black Sleep, The Undying Monster and Donovan’s Brain) menus and chapter selection.

    The Final Word:

    The Invisible Ghost is a pretty entertaining way to kill sixty-three minutes. It's got a decent amount of style, a great cast and most importantly it tells a good story. Kino's Blu-ray release offers up the movie in very nice shape and with a genuinely engaging and interesting commentary track as its main supplement.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      This is one of those releases that sometimes looks utterly fantastic and sometimes mediocre, based on which reel is playing.