Press agents Jerry Miles (Wally Brown) and Mike Streger (Alan Carney) have a problem on their hands. Their new boss, ex-gangster Ace Miller (Sheldon Leonard), wants to open his new nightclub with a grand gesture, but while they have organised a New York City-wide publicity campaign, the fact remains that they don't have what they are promising for the unveiling of the establishment. What is it that they need? Nothing more or less than an actual zombie, and the stand-in, a boxer with his face painted, is not going to fool anybody...
Here's a strange thing, a double act with two straight men - ah, no, not really, it was the shortlived team of Brown and Carney who graced a handful of films in the mid-forties then went their separate ways. They were patently devised as a cash-in - you couldn't really call them rivals - on the huge success of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, but were hampered by the fact that their material wasn't really up to snuff and the way their personalities were poorly defined for their purposes. There was little distinction between either Brown or Carney in the style of how they approached the humour.
If you could call it humour, as there's barely a funny line to be found in Zombies on Broadway, indeed, the sole reason anyone recalls it these days is because of the actor taking second billing behind the duo, and he was Bela Lugosi. Lugosi was well into his any old sinister role for money phase by 1945, and if he wasn't playing menacing butlers he was essaying the stereotypical mad scientist part, something he could by then play in his sleep. He's not actually in this film very much, and only appears around once in the first half of a pretty short movie, though he has a few chances nearer the end for the traditional chase.
Lugosi is Dr Renault, thought to be dead but really filling his days with developing a serum on the island of San Sebastian. He has seen the way in which the locals use voodoo to create zombies, so jealously tries to create his own using science, with unimpressive results. There are signs that this was made to ape the B-movie success of I Walked With a Zombie, the Val Lewton production, as the main walking dead is not only played by that film's Darby Jones, but Sir Lancelot shows up too, long enough to offer us a calypso on his guitar. That's about the only note of class in the whole thing, as mostly the script settles on clichés instead of outright spoofery.
The press agents are threatened with death if they don't come up with the goods, zombie-wise, so head over to the museum to see if an expert can assist. They meet an eccentric historian (Ian Wolfe) who points them in the right direction, and the duo are inadvertently upstaged by the uncredited actor Nick Stewart working wonders with the frightened janitor routine: he does more with his five minutes of screen time than Brown and Carney do with their hour. After that, it's off to the island and easy to watch capers, complete with Anne Jeffreys as a knife-throwing cabaret singer and a mischievous monkey who gets into a tussle with Lugosi, not the actor's finest moment. Yet oddly, the film does strike a note of unease when it seems so keen to zombify the lead actors: imagine if Lou Costello had been bitten by the Wolf Man, for instance. Other than that, it's wholly average. Music by Roy Webb.