Saturday, October 10, 2015

Scared Stiff ( 1953 )

Phyllis of Phyllis Loves Classic Movies is currently hosting They Remade What?!, a blogathon exploring film remakes and the original pictures that inspired these films. Our choice for this grand event is Scared Stiff, the 1953 remake of the 1940 Bob Hope classic The Ghost Breakers, which in itself was a remake of a silent film remake ( 1922 ) of the original film starring H.B Warner. If you are going to write about a remake you might as well go all out and pick a granddaddy!

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. 

When they hit Hollywood in 1948, their first film, a B-production called My Friend Irma, became a sudden box-office smash. Producer Hal Wallis didn't know whether the crowd's enthusiasm for the dynamic duo would cool as fast as it ignited, so he thrust them into one picture after another. The year 1953 alone saw them in three features - Money from Home, Scared Stiff, and The Caddy.

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?"
"Nobody's perfect!"

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! 


  1. Great post as always! Thanks so much for participating!! :)

    I love "The Ghost Breakers" and now I have to add "Scared Stiff" to my list!

  2. When you just gotta have Dean and Jerry, "Scared Stiff" shows them in their enthusiastic prime. A good, solid property and George Marshall always knew what he was doing. It is interesting how the team could fit into older properties yet bring their own, unique personalities.

    1. Yes, indeed....Marshall was a very capable director and Hollywood could use a few men with half of his talent today. Scared Stiff and You're Never Too Young are two of my favorite M&L films.

  3. Great post! I knew Carmen Miranda was in Scared Stiff, so I kept waiting for her to be mentioned! Nice to know that The Ghost Breakers was the genesis of comdy thrillers from the 1940s.
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

    1. Thank you Le! We're glad you enjoyed the post and yes, we couldn't overlook Carmen Miranda, she was the highlight of the film!

  4. Oh boy. I haven't seen any of these, which is something I'd better change...! I'm not sure how much of a Martin & Lewis fan I am, but Scared Stiff definitely sounds worth a go, especially if it has the fab Carmen Miranda. Thanks!

    1. It's well worth checking out both, but I think you'll find The Ghost Breakers the more enjoyable of the too, especially if you are a doubtful M&L viewer.

  5. THE GHOST BREAKERS is one of my favorite Bob Hope comedies and it holds up amazingly well today (whereas CAT AND THE CANARY doesn't). SCARED STIFF is a pretty good remake. I agree that it's nowhere as good as the original, but it is one Martin and Lewis's best films.

    1. Yes Rick, The Ghost Breakers is timeless entertainment. I can watch it once a year and not tire of it and it boasts some of Hope's best quips.