When Judge Mike Rubino is solving a crime, he never unbuttons his suit!
An actor who plays a detective on the radio tries to solve a real-life murder.
As a kid, I loved staying up late on Friday nights and watching campy haunted house movies on AMC. Goofy heroes wandering around cramped hallways filled with traps; old-school special effects like floating heads and transparent ghosts; the occasional guy in a gorilla suit…it's all awesome. So naturally, Whispering Ghosts, a forgotten Fox Archives release about a haunted pirate ship, sounds right up my alley.
The film stars Milton Berle—before he went on to television fame—as H.S. Van Buren, a radio show star who claims to solve cold case mysteries. He's like a 1940s Robert Stack. Just as he's about to announce the killer of old Captain Eli Wetherby in the show's most riveting case, he finds out that his hunch is incorrect. In a bit of an extreme request, the show's sponsor insists that Van Buren solve the mystery for real—he's got to be right or they'll lose listeners!
H.S. travels with his sidekick and valet Euclid Brown (Willie Best) to the shipwrecked "Black Joker" and finds a cast of unsavory characters busy searching for the ship's gold. There's Betty Woods (Brenda Joyce, a.k.a. Jane from Tarzan), the captain's grand-niece and inheritor of the ship; a pair of actors pretending to be crazy; a scarred mystery man; Betty's husband; and a pair of weary travelers who get stuck in the fog. Any of them could be the captain's killer!
Whispering Ghosts follows the haunted-house-comedy formula pretty closely. At every turn, there are shadowy figures causing mischief. There's ghosts and costumed murderers. And there's a lot of slapstick humor—usually at the expense of poor Euclid. As a side note: the film also has a fair share of racially insensitive stereotypes that are wholly unnecessary. Overall, the film tries very hard to be funny and never truly succeeds. Berle's constant, emotionally-distant one-liners only land once in a while, and because the supporting cast doesn't get to say anything funny, the "comedy" of the movie falls squarely on his shoulders.
With average acting and scarce laughs, Whispering Ghosts is more of a basic dinner theater mystery with decent production design. The ghost ship feels fully realized—even if we never see an establishing shot or anything that suggests scale—and equally creepy. The poor quality of the film stock, and the general bare bones nature of the direct-to-DVD Fox Archives releases, means that this movie hasn't been remastered in the slightest. It looks and sounds old.
If you're a fan of that ultra-niche genre of haunted house comedies, this rare film will be another notch in your obscure-yet-fondly-remembered belt. But beware: this film doesn't live up to its great premise in scares or laughs.
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