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Ghostbusters' Roots Review - Lonesome Ghosts (1937)

 By Paul Rudoff on Mar. 8, 2019 at 6:35 PM , Categories: References , Tags:

Ghostbusters didn't invent the idea of professional paranormal investigations and eliminations. When Dan Aykroyd came up with the concept for the film, he put a modern scientific spin on what others had done in the past. The "Ghostbusters' Roots Review" feature here at Spook Central - an off-shoot of the "Ghostbusters Reference Review" - will take a look at the foundation upon which Ghostbusters was built.

Original Movie Poster
(credit: Heritage Auctions)

Lonesome Ghosts is a short film released by Walt Disney Productions on December 24, 1937. Mickey Mouse (Walt Disney), Donald Duck (Clarence Nash), and Goofy (Pinto Colvig) run the Ajax Ghost Exterminators company. Although the sign on their door reads "busy" (and not "Maid, please have this room made up as soon as possible"), they are anything but. Their bored slumber is broken by a phone call from four lonesome ghosts (the short one is voiced by Billy Bletcher) looking for someone to scare.


Ajax Ghost Exterminators soon arrive at the ghosts' dilapidated domicile. Micky is armed with a double-barreled shotgun, Goofy has a fireman's axe, and Donald has a butterfly net?!? I'm not quite sure how these weapons could actually hurt non-physical entities, but I don't have a diploma from "Ghost College" like they do, so who am I to say? It doesn't take long before the ghosts start pranking our trio of ghost exterminators, who decide that it would be better if they split up. I guess they can do more damage that way.


Mickey is up first, with a tall, hatted ghost sneaking up behind him. The ghost nabs his Deerstalker hat (later donated with the shotgun to Elmer Fudd), then sticks his fingers in Mickey's shotgun, causing it to go limp. I hear there are pills for that now. Mickey chases the ghost upstairs to a false door on a wall (so that's where Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner got the idea from), which falls to the floor. The ghostly quartet comes out mimicking Archibald M. Willard's "The Spirit of 76" painting, before exiting stage right with a soft shoe tap dance.


Now it's Donald's turn for a little ghost harassment, which starts with a ghost scaring him by dropping some very colorful dishes on the floor behind him. Startled, Donald hides under the nearest chair, but that doesn't save him from a ghost who throws down his chains. He then pops in and out of a dresser, taking one of the drawers with him. The ghost grabs a piece of wood and gives Donald a spanking. This was back when it was okay to spank your ducks. That type of action is frowned upon in today's society. Donald gets the upper hand on the ghost with some light fisticuffs, before the ghost retaliates with water out of nowhere.


The "brave, but careful" Goofy is frighted off by a ghost banging pots and pans behind his back. He scratches at the wall, looking for a way out, eventually retreating to the safe confines of a nearby door frame. Goofy proclaims, "I ain't a'scared of no ghosts." (timecode 5:50) Yes, folks, he actually says that. Take a listen for yourself.

It seems to me that Goofy had more reason to sue Ray Parker Jr. than Huey Lewis. Perhaps the wrong person is getting those royalty payments. Anyway, the ghost sneaks up behind Goofy and literally kicks his butt, before running off like a coward into a dresser. What is it with these ghosts cheap-shotting from behind? Goofy goes to the dresser and the ghost pulls the old mirror gag on him. Well, back in 1937 it was probably a new mirror gag. Lucy and Harpo had yet to popularize it. Eventually, Goofy gets tangled up in the dresser and beats himself silly, thinking that he's choking out the ghost.


The ghostly foursome look on in amusement at Goofy's stupidity, before pushing him and the dresser down the stairs, where Mickey and Donald await. They crash into a mixture of flour and molasses, which makes them look like an even more frightening trio of ghosts. It also makes them look like they got covered in the same remnants of Mr. Stay Puft as that other group of paranormal exterminators. Scared by these new "ghosts", the green lonesome variety make a b-line for the exit, while tripping over every damn thing in the house. I thought they could pass through solid objects? Also, why did they break the window instead of going through it? Common sense be damned for a cheap gag, I guess. Mickey, Donald, and Goofy gather at the window to see the ghosts leaving footprints in the snow as they run off.


Yeah, not exactly proton packs and ghost traps, but the roots are undeniable. Even Disney thought so, as they used footage from the short for a music video set to Ray Parker, Jr.'s "Ghostbusters" in their NBC special Disney's DTV Monster Hits, which aired on October 30, 1987. (Video is at the bottom of this article) The Man in the Magic Mirror host (Jeffrey Jones) refers to Mickey, Donald, and Goofy as "the world's first Ghostbusters". Disney had Tony Alselmo, himself a guest voice on The Real Ghostbusters, record two new lines as Donald Duck singing along to the song.

The fans have felt the same way, too, as evidenced by these two pieces of fan art from 1994 and 2013.

by KJM (1994)

by Dave Alvarez (2013)

Presented below is a low-quality compressed copy of the short, with optional subtitles (they default to on, use the CC button in the lower right corner to turn them off). If you'd like to own a nice, high quality copy, the original version can be found on the following DVDs: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (Gold Collection) (alt url), Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Living Color, Vol. 1, and Mickey's House of Villains. (The older Ichabod and Mr. Toad "Gold Collection" DVD [it's not on the newer DVD and Blu-ray], which presents the short with subtitles, is the source for the images and video with subtitles used in this article.) Do be aware that there is also a "Short Version" (aka "Have A Laugh Version", which runs for 3 minutes 30 seconds. It has been horribly edited and redubbed with the then-current voice actors and new sound effects. Avoid this version at all costs.

Patreon-Exclusive Bonus Feature: "Mickey and the Ghostchasers" comic story from 2010 based on Lonesome Ghosts.

More Lonesome Ghosts information and images can be found on the Disney Wiki and Ghostbusters Wiki.

Play Video
Entire Short (8:47)

Play Video
DTV Monster Hits Music Video (3:20)
(Video courtesy of Monster Music and NeonRooster83)

For more information about Ghostbusters' roots, be sure to check out the rest of Spook Central's Ghostbusters' Roots Review articles. On a related note, the References category will present you with a complete list of Spook Central's Ghostbusters Reference Review posts.

1 comment

Comment from: Jason A. Matthews [Visitor]

You know, coincidentally, Jeffrey Jones also co-stars in the 1994 Tim Burton black-and-white biopic feature film “Ed Wood", with another co-star, Bill Murray (who is also in the “Ghostbusters” movies as well).

Mar. 14, 2019 @ 17:45

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