Movie Review: The Living Ghost (1942)

by StevenHelmer

A review of the murder mystery starring James Dunn and Joan Woodbury

Synopsis: Eccentric ex-detective Nick Trayne is offered $25,000 to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a wealthy banker. The case becomes more challenging when the banker returns to his house in a zombie-like state and, a short time later, the banker’s brother-in-law is found murdered in the garden. It’s up to Nick to figure out which of the banker’s uncooperative relatives is behind all of it.


I came across this movie in Netflix’s classic films section and decided to add it to my list because, at least from the description, it sounded interesting. I wound up watching it this morning and at lunch and, after seeing the film, I have to admit it was definitely entertaining.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m a huge fan of mysteries and this film offered up a pretty decent one. Not only did we not know what happened to the banker (Glassmire) and why he was in a zombie-like state. At times, he would actually turn violent and there was a very distinct possibility he was the killer. Not helping matters was the fact every single member of his family seemed like a potential suspect, mostly because they refused to cooperate whenever they were asked to do so.

As it turns out, I wasn’t as huge of a fan of the detective, Nick Trayne (Dunn) as I thought I would be. He was an OK character. But, his jokes were a bit dated and, at least in my opinion, he just didn’t seem as witty as I think the writers meant him to be. If anything, I couldn’t help but think of him as a crude, arrogant womanizer that just wasn’t very likable.

Saving the movie, however, was Nick’s love interest, Billie (Woodbury). She was attractive, charming and very witty. And, unlike many female characters in movies from this era, she wasn’t afraid to stand up for herself and even saved Nick’s life on more than one occasion. While Nick, himself, wasn’t very likable, I did find I liked the two of them together because they played off of each other really well and that team definitely made the film watchable.

My only real complaint about this film is the ending does leave some unanswered questions. For example, they explain why the banker was in his zombie-like condition. But, they never fully explain why he is seen carrying a knife on more than one occasion. Was it a side effect? Or, was the person responsible for his condition controlling him somehow? While this wasn’t enough to ruin the movie overall, it would have been nice if the film would have taken a bit more time to explain it.

The Living Ghost

James Dunn stars as Nick Trayne, a retired detective, hired to look for missing banker Walter Craig. During the investigation Craig shows up in a zombie-like state and murders h...

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Final Opinion

I don’t think the movie is as funny as it was meant to be. However, it does have a decent, almost horror-like mystery to it and, as I mentioned, I do like the pairing of Dunn and Woodbury. I would recommend taking the time to watch it if you get the opportunity to.

My Grade: B

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Updated: 06/25/2019, StevenHelmer
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