That's the Spirit is a moderately entertaining little fantasy that, it must be said, would have benefited from a bit more spirit itself. Spirit wants to be welcomed into the heavenly pantheon of 1940s fantasy films that includes Here Comes Mr. Jordan and The Bishop's Wife, but it's unfortunately a bit to earthbound to qualify. Blame the screenplay, which takes a workable premise and gives it a fairly mundane, by-the-numbers treatment. Some of the lines are witty, and there are enough good situational setups to provide laughs and make Spirit painless viewing -- but not enough to make it truly memorable. Charles Lamont's so-so direction doesn't help matters, but the cast certainly does. Jack Oakie turns in a very appealing performance, full of his trademark double takes and schtick, but with heart and soul included as well. (Presumably, Oakie, whose family expected him to have a stodgy business career, felt some affinity for the situation presented in Spirit.) Gene Lockhart is a fine curmudgeonly villain, and June Vincent does well with a nothing part. Even better is Peggy Ryan, who brings a great deal of vivacity to her role and who, with some top-notch terpsichore from Johnny Coy, makes several musical numbers bounce along very pleasantly. That's the Spirit may not be a film for the ages, but the cast makes it diverting enough.
by Craig Butler review