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Ghostbusters' Roots Review - Ghost Buster (1952)

 By Paul Rudoff on Mar. 17, 2019 at 11:11 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.

Okay, show of hands... Who here thought that Filmation came up with the title Ghostbusters? Columbia Pictures' lawyers sure did back in 1983 when they were filming the movie we all know and love. However, had those lawyers done their due diligence, I bet they wouldn't have had to pay a dime to Lou Scheimer. For you see, 23 years before Filmation made their hokey live-action series, there was this.

Original Movie Poster

Ghost Buster is a short film released by RKO Radio Pictures on March 7, 1952. It was the fifth in a series of RKO films directed by Hal Yates to feature actors Gil Lamb and Carol Hughes. Hal Yates (not related to Abby) wrote the film with Elwood Ullman (not a blues brother, I'm told). The credited list of cast are Gil Lamb, Carol Hughes, Donald MacBride, Donna Martell, Jim Hayward, Edward Clark, and George Wallace.


The short opens in the office of J.P. Lynch, city editor for the Evening Record. His secretary, Betty Ames (Carol Hughes), saves window-washer Slim Patterson (Gil Lamb) from falling to his death outside. Just as he gives her a squished box of chocolates, in walks top reporter, Chuck Dixon, to give her a better box before their date later that night. Lynch called him in to get the story of the mysterious disappearance of society playboy Lionel Bigelow, heir to his uncle's fortune. Wanting a better place in life, Slim decides to investigate the story himself and prove that he's worthy of being hired as a reporter.


He arrives to find uncle Bigelow's nurse, Mrs. Nolan, quitting her job because she refuses to work any longer in a haunted house. Since Bigelow's butler, Oswald, won't let in any reporters, he leaves and reappears in drag as "Agatha 'Aggie' Patterson" to take the now-vacated job as Bigelow's caregiver. While being put to bed, Mr. Bigelow tells Aggie/Slim that he needs a sedative in order to cope with the strange voices and cries in the night that happen in the house. As he's telling him this, the painting on the wall near the bed moves, revealing a pair of peering eyes, which then makes way for a hand brandishing a knife! Yikes! Mr. Bigelow sees it, but when Aggie/Slim turns around, it's a perfectly normal scene instead.


Aggie/Slim goes to prepare a "mickey" to help him sleep, and as he steps away, a mysterious hand pours a heaping helping of poison in the glass instead. We know this because the canister is conveniently labelled as "poison". Thankfully, Mr. Bigelow falls asleep on his own, saving himself from a more permanent slumber. That gives Aggie/Slim a chance look for clues. Sadly, without a talking dog to help. After getting scared from a cat - see, a dog would have been of great help - he calls Betty, who's on her date with Dixon.


The lights go out while they talk, and then a hand grabs his shoulder, prompting him to end the call. It's Lola, the maid, who wants to stay with Aggie/Slim because she fears that there's someone in her room. They hear a scream, and run to Mr. Bigelow's room to make sure that he's alright. Aggie/Slim sees that he is, but when Lola looks, he's been replaced with some "horrible thing". When Aggie/Slim looks again, the bed is now empty.


They both hide when they hear the door creak open. It's Oswald the butler and the Horrible Thing. Oswald tells Thing that he suspects that nurse Aggie is really a reporter from the Record in disguise. Thing leaves through the door, while Oswald goes through a secret passage in the wall. Once the coast is clear, Aggie/Slim comes out and tries to follow Oswald, but he can't find the passageway. Of course, in true haunted house style, he leans against the wall and literally falls into the hidden passage, thus revealing a tied-up Mr. Bigelow strung up to the other side of the hidden door. As a frightened Lola screams, reporter Chuck Dixon enters through the unlocked front door. He didn't even try to ring the bell. That's trespassing, buddy!


Meanwhile, upstairs, Oswald catches Aggie/Slim and cons him into saying the magic word: "record". This leads to a fight between the two of them, which is eventually joined by Thing. Once Aggie/Slim has subdued them all, thanks to a metal vase stuck to his hand, Mr. Bigelow walks in to proclaim that "someone is trying to kill me." You don't say? In true Scooby-Doo fashion - albeit 17 years before - Aggie/Slim pulls off Thing's mask to reveal the "missing" nephew, Lionel Bigelow. Lionel plotted to scare his uncle to death (because he had just had a heart attack) so that he could inherit the family fortune before his uncle got around to changing his will and disinheriting him.


Eventually, Betty, Lynch, and two police officers show up. While the cops take care of the bad guys, Betty reveals Slim to be an employee of the Evening Record, which doesn't sit well with Lynch. Of course, when Slim asks Lynch if he wants him to take his story to the paper's competitor, Lynch is all to happy to have him officially on the staff as his "very best reporter". Slim sees some curtains moving on the other side of the room. Suspecting another bad guy, he hits the person behind the curtain in the head with the metal vase that's still stuck to his hand. Turn out, it's Dixon, who falls to the ground unconscious. I'd question why Dixon was hiding behind a curtain and didn't announce himself or anything, but we're seconds away from the end so let's just put this thing to bed; with or without a sedative. Betty proclaims Slim to be "my hero!", and they go to hug, causing Slim to knock himself out with that vase on his hand. He falls down on top of Dixon, fade to black as "Pop Goes the Weasel" plays.


Okay, this short was more Scooby-Doo than proton packs and ghost traps, but it's the earliest known use of the name/title "Ghostbuster", and that makes it an important part of Ghostbusters history. Although Hal Yates would make a few more unrelated shorts with actors Gil Lamb and Carol Hughes, none involved would go on to great success. However, co-writer Elwood Ullman would later write movies for the Bowery Boys, who had a trio of ghost films that are part of the Ghostbusters legacy. Interestingly, their 1946 film Spook Busters was filmed under the working title Ghost Busters, but the title was changed shortly before it was released; as mentioned in "The Films of The Bowery Boys" by David Hayes and Brent Walker (published in 1984 by Citadel Press). Had that film retained its original title, it would have been the earliest use.

Presented below is the only copy of the short that has ever appeared online, originally uploaded to YouTube by TheShortsDepartment on June 22, 2016. I have done my best to fix it up a little bit. It's now in the proper 1.33:1 aspect ratio (640x480), with excess blackness cropped off the sides, leading and trailing blackness removed (and the software url at the end), and audio raised to the maximum level and resynced a little bit. Obviously, since the source material was poor, it's still not a great copy, but is IS watchable...and that's the point. If you'd like to own a nice, high quality copy, you're out of luck. Whomever owns the RKO library has no interest in officially releasing this public domain short that is only of interest to Ghostbusters historians. That said, Sinister Cinema is selling it on DVD (and VHS!), paired with The Flying Serpent (1946) (aka Killer With Wings) for $16.95. It's obviously the source for the video below, which has a subtle "SC" watermark (for "Sinister Cinema", not "Spook Central") in the lower right corner at the start.

Big thanks go to Matthew Jordan for starting the research on this way back in October 2013. More Ghost Buster information and images can be found on the Ghostbusters Wiki, Movie Magg Blog, and the IMDB.

Play Video
Entire Short (17:22, 82 Mb)

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.

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