Chuck Murray (Bud Abbott) and Ferdie Jones (Lou Costello), gas station attendants, aspire to better jobs waiting tables at Chez Glamour, a high-class nightclub, where Ted Lewis and The Andrews Sisters perform. However, Chuck and Ferdie cause a ruckus and the snooty maitre d' (Mischa Auer) fires them. Back at the gas station, gangster "Moose" Mattson (William B. Davidson) brings his car in for servicing. Chuck and Ferdie are caught inside the vehicle when the gangster speeds off to escape the police. During the chase Matson exchanges shots with the police and is killed. Chuck and Ferdie learn from the gangster's attorney that through a strange clause in his will, which states that whoever was with him when he died will inherit his estate, the boys now own Mattson's rundown tavern, the Forrester's Club. Mattson had also given a cryptic clue about a hidden stash of money, stating that he "kept his money in his head," but its existence and location remained a mystery.
Mattson's attorney introduces the boys to an associate, Charlie Smith, who will accompany the boys to the rural property in a wildcat bus. The boys are unaware that Smith (Marc Lawrence) is a member of Moose's gang and is after the money. The unscrupulous bus driver, however, abandons them and three unrelated passengers--a doctor (Richard Carlson), a radio actress (Joan Davis) and a waitress (Evelyn Ankers)--at the club during a heavy rainstorm.
As the night progresses, strange things happen. Smith disappears while searching the basement, and his corpse turns up unexpectedly several times. The water in the tavern is undrinkable. Ferdie's bedroom turns out to be rigged with hidden gambling equipment. The girls are scared by what appears to be a ghost. Two detectives show up but vanish soon after starting their investigation. Chuck and the doctor decide to search for the detectives while Ferdie examines a map to find the quickest route back to town. However, the candles on the table move mysteriously and scare Ferdie.
Ferdie eventually finds Moose's treasure hidden inside the stuffed moose head over the fireplace. Members of the gang (including the so-called detectives) appear and demand the money, leading to a chase through the building. Ferdie scares them off by making the sound of a police siren. The doctor announces that the water they drank last night has therapeutic properties, and Ferdie and Chuck should transform the club into a health resort. The boys also hire Ted Lewis and The Andrews Sisters to headline, and the maitre d' who fired them from Chez Glamour turns up as a waiter.
Hold that Ghost (working title: Oh Charlie) was made immediately after Buck Privates, from January 21 through February 24, 1941, on a budget of $190,000. The film's release was delayed, however, so that Universal could hastily make and release a second Abbott and Costello service comedy, In the Navy.
Since both service comedies prominently featured music and The Andrews Sisters, Universal put Oh Charlie back into production in May, 1941, to append the opening and closing of the film with musical performances, and re-shoot other scenes for continuity purposes. This cost an (estimated) additional $200,000.
Upon the film's release it received mostly positive reviews. The New York Times considered the film "immensely funny" but criticized its musical numbers and length. The Motion Picture Herald gave the film a very favorable review. Motion Picture Daily felt that it was Abbott and Costello's "corniest" and "best" comedy yet. The use of slapstick was praised by the New York Morning Telegraph, yet the publication thought "it should have been better Abbott and Costello."
The film still receives favorable reviews. Over 2700 IMDB contributors give it a rating of 7.6/10. Rotten Tomatoes reports that 100% of critics gave the film positive write-ups based on six reviews, and 90% of 780 users liked it, with an average rating of 4.2/5. Film critic Leonard Maltin gave the film three out of four stars and noted it as "Prime A&C."Allmovie contributor Hal Erickson gave the film three out of a possible five stars and stated that the "moving candle" scene might be "Costello's funniest-ever screen scene." Abbott and Costello biographer Jim Mulholland has described it as the "team's best film next to Buck Privates"
Hold that Ghost was re-released in theaters twice, in 1948 and 1949, along with Hit the Ice.
This film has been released three times on VHS. Originally released in 1982 on VHS and Beta, it was re-released on VHS in 1988 and again in 1991.
This film has been released twice on DVD. The first time, on The Best of Abbott and Costello Volume One, on February 10, 2004, and again on October 28, 2008 as part of Abbott and Costello: The Complete Universal Pictures Collection.