It's true. Bob Hope pretty much played one character. People get down on Robin Williams for that sort of thing, but consider this. Bob Hope lived to be 100 years old. His first job in show business was working for [i]Fatty Arbuckle[/i]. I mean, that was when Fatty Arbuckle was still allowed to work under his own name. (Look it up. It's another one of the great Hollywood scandals proving that scandals were more interesting in the early days.) Okay, he was a dancer then, but still. Let's say his schtick started at his first film--which I'm pretty sure it didn't. That only pushes it forward ten years, to 1934. That was, counting until his last TV appearance in 2003, that's [i]seventy years[/i] of doing the same basic character. No [i]One Hour Photo[/i] for Bob. Just cowardice and golf jokes for longer than a lot of people are alive.
In this one, Bob's a radio figure. A Walter Winchell-y sort, I think. (Look that up, too.) Anyway, he somehow manages to piss off the mob, which somehow gets him into the room of one Mary Carter (Paulette Goddard), which somehow ends with him stowing away to Cuba. How doesn't really matter, does it? I mean, it would [i]now[/i], because, you know, Castro, but back then, Cuba was a popular vacation spot for Americans. Anyway, Mary owns some little island off what I guess is Havana, and the island has a castle on it, and the castle is supposed to be haunted. Hilarity ensues as Hope and Goddard and Hope's stereotyped black manservant, Alex (Willie Best) end up on the island, in the dark, trying to find out the secrets of the castle, which may even include zombies. Because, you know, zombies.
I do not expect a Bob Hope movie to make sense. This, of course, is a good thing. Because I can pretty much promise you that this one doesn't. I may have missed some details, because I wasn't giving it my full attention, but the plot is just a place to carry us from one set of hijinks to another. You know that Bob Hope will solve the mystery, though getting the girl isn't always a guarantee for him--see all the [i]Road[/i] pictures--and he will be scared of the ghosts the whole time. Though I will say that, in this one, the patented Hope cowardice isn't as prominent.
So let's talk about Alex for a minute. He is the stereotyped black manservant, as I said. However, compare him to Eddie Anderson, Jack Benny's sidekick and "Eddie the chauffeur" in [i]Topper Returns[/i]. (And Uncle Peter in [i]Gone With the Wind[/i].) In [i]Topper Returns[/i], everyone else in the film is of sterner stuff than Eddie. There's a real, live (so to speak) ghost wandering around the picture, but he's afraid of everything, not just the ghost. Alex manages to keep his cool in at least on crisis over the course of the movie, helping Bob Hope out of a situation he couldn't've gotten out of on his own--or even, possibly, with the help of Goddard. He doesn't get much of a personality, but Bob Hope doesn't talk down to him as Topper talks down to Eddie. Then again, he doesn't need to--Alex is smarter.
This is not a complicated film. There's a fair amount of plot here, but again, it just kind of slides us from one place to another. The beginning has to happen in New York, so there has to be a reason to get the characters on the boat. Bob Hope has to encounter the ghost story, so there has to be a reason to get him on the island. Step by step, the whole thing gets set up. It makes just enough sense to hang the story on, and you kind of get the feeling that it's all anybody really cared about.