This old war horse told the story of a young man who aids an Aragon princess in recovering a valuable locket. Their quest for the bobble leads them to a haunted castillo in Spain. Warner had performed this role with great success in the 1913 Broadway revival version of Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard's 1909 play "The Ghost Breaker".
In 1940, Paramount reunited Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard, stars of the previous year's hit The Cat and the Canary, for a mystery-comedy version of The Ghost Breakers.
For this production, screenwriter Walter DeLeon moved its setting to New York City and practically discarded the original story. This time around Hope played Larry Lawrence, a radio show host continually dishing to his audience the inside scoop on New York's most notorious gangsters. One thug in particular doesn't enjoy his broadcasts. On a dark and stormy night Larry is summoned to meet him at a hotel and mistakenly believes he has killed a man in the corridor. To hide from the police, he sneaks into Mary Carter's ( Paulette Goddard ) trunk bound for Cuba via steamer. Once on board he finds himself falling for Carter and embroiled in a fate worse than being the target of murderous gangsters....being left in a castle filled with zombies, ghosts, and a hidden treasure!
"I don't mind dying, I just hate the preliminaries"
The Ghost Breakers proved to be even more popular than The Cat and the Canary and it inspired a whole new genre of mystery-comedies which reached its popularity in the mid-1940s with comedy duos such as Abbott and Costello, The Bowery Boys, and The Three Stooges all hunting for ghosts and ghouls.
During this time, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were clowning around at a nightclub in New York City keeping audience in stitches with laughter. Within a month after their debut, they were show business supernovas. Coast to coast, audiences packed into nightclubs eager to catch the latest show of the crooning gentleman and his monkey-like companion. With an act that combined singing, slapstick, and spontaneous hi-jinks, the duo sold tickets faster than speeding duo and then went on, in quick succession, to conquer radio, television and film.
Scared Stiff marked the duo's ninth picture together and since the studio was churning out Martin/Lewis films faster than they could write scripts for them, they naturally tapped into their vast archive to pull out an oldie-but-goodie to copy- The Ghost Breakers. Hope's hits were always good box-office. And not taking any chances, Wallis put director George Marshall in charge once again utilizing a script that had little alterations from the 1940 version.
"You killed a perfect stranger?"
The husky-voiced siren Lizabeth Scott took on Paulette Goddard's part of Mary Carter ( now changed to Mary Carroll ) while Martin and Lewis split the task of acting as ghostbusters. Also cast was George Dolenz, Dorothy Malone ( who would later appear in another Martin/Lewis hit Artists and Models ) and Paul Marion.
In The Ghost Breakers, Willie Best had co-starred as Larry's valet, butler, and general right-hand man Alex and it was Best who became the shivering stooge, seeing zombies and ghosts when others didn't. In Scared Stiff, Jerry Lewis takes on this part as Myron Myron. Some of the highlights of the picture include the ventriloquist sequence with Frank Fontaine ( "Do it again! Do it again!" ); the Myron-in-the-mirror part and the infamous "Enchilada" number.
Even with its moments of humor, Hal Wallis sensed that the film lacked a certain spark the original possessed and so he threw in the Brazilian bombshell Carmen Miranda to enliven the festivities and this bit of casting enabled Lewis to do one of his most famous bits of shtick - donning pineapple-topped attire and lip-singing "Bingo Bongo".
The Ghost Breakers was a hit because of its mixture of comedy with real thrills. Scared Stiff lacked the thrills but more than made up for it with an extra dose of zaniness and Dino's devil-may-care attitude towards ghost-hunting. Even though it was a slapdash production, Martin and Lewis fans found it a scream and today it remains one of their most popular films.
Be sure to head on over to Phyllis Loves Classic Movies to read about more classic film remakes!