Movie Review: Scared Stiff (1953)

“They’re making a spook-tacle of themselves!”

0 Stars
Scared Stiff (1953)

Scared Stiff (1953)


Director: George Marshall

Cast: Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Lizabeth Scott

Synopsis: A busboy and a singer help a young heiress to claim her inheritance – an island on which zombies are rumoured to roam.


Director George Marshall reworked his 1940 box-office success The Ghost Breakers for Scared Stiff, the seventh pairing of hit comedy duo Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, even inserting what looks like the identical opening shot of a lightning strike over a blacked out city from the first movie.   It was the second of four films Martin & Lewis cranked out in 1953, even though filming was delayed by three months while the two unhappy stars negotiated an improved contract with producer Hal Wallis who, they claimed, was ‘subjugating our artistic and personal integrity to your greed.’

Although much of Scared Stiff’s publicity material focused on the comic supernatural content in the story, that portion of the movie takes up only half-an-hour or so, with most of the story taking place on the liner on which the boys inadvertently find themselves after becoming involved with heiress Mary Carroll (the smoky voiced Lizabeth Scott).   Larry (Martin – The Sons of Katie Elder, The Young Lions) enlisted Mary’s aid after mistakenly believing he’d shot a man while fleeing an irate gangster whose girlfriend he’d been romancing, and was hiding from the police in her trunk when it was carted off in preparation for her sea voyage to Lost Island, the ominously named piece of real estate of which she was the proud new owner.   When it becomes clear that someone on the voyage might be willing to resort to murder to prevent Mary from claiming her inheritance, Larry and his dim-witted friend Myron (Lewis – Who’s Minding the Store?, The Trust) resolve to provide any protection she might need.

Scared Stiff is a typical example of the duo’s work at a time when they were the hottest team in the States: Martin croons and seduces the ladies while Lewis pulls silly faces and yells his lines at the top of his voice.   It’s all played for broad laughs, so barely qualifies as a horror, and most viewers will be hard-pressed to spot the zombie when he finally makes an appearance.   Those who aren’t fans of the duo – and Lewis’s childlike buffoonery in particular – but who find themselves unable to avoid Scared Stiff are advised to distract themselves with a less painful pursuit such as banging their forehead against a hard object or counting the number of times Lewis utters the name ‘Larry.’   Bob Hope, who appeared in The Ghost Breakers, makes an unbilled guest appearance with his screen partner, Bing Crosby just before the end credits, while Norman Lear, who wrote some of the most influential American TV comedies of the 1970s, receives his first big screen credit for additional dialogue.

(Reviewed 11th January 2017)





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