SCARED STIFF (1953) Reviews and overview

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Scared Stiff is a 1953 American musical comedy feature film directed by George Marshall from a screenplay by Herbert Baker and Walter DeLeon (The Cat and the Canary), loosely based on the 1909 play The Ghost Breaker by Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard. It stars Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

The team’s ninth picture, Scared Stiff is essentially a remake of Paramount’s previous effort, The Ghost Breakers (1940), also directed by George Marshall. The studio had also filmed two versions in the silent era The Ghost Breaker (1914) directed by Cecil B. DeMille and The Ghost Breaker (1922) starring Wallace Reid.

Mary Carroll (Lizabeth Scott) inherits her family’s ancestral home, located on a small island off Cuba, and, despite warnings and death threats, decides to sail to Havana and take possession of the reputedly haunted castle. She is joined by nightclub entertainer Larry Todd (Martin) who, believing he has killed a mobster, flees New York with a friend, Myron (Lewis).

Once on the island the three enter the eerie castle and, after viewing the ghost of one of Mary’s ancestors and fighting off a menacing zombie, find the key to the castle’s treasure…


Scared Stiff goes on far too long – it takes over 90 minutes before we get to the island, with the plot being dragged out by an interminable series of musical numbers and much runnings around hotels and ships at sea. It is also lazily developed – it reaches the end without ever explaining whether the hauntings are real or not.” Richard Scheib, Moria

” …besides the opening number with Dean Martin, Lewis is incorporated into all the other songs, so there’s no avoiding him. There’s a bit of nice atmosphere in the haunted house scenes, but compare the zombie here with Noble Johnson’s great zombie from the Bob Hope version, and you can’t help but come up disappointed.” Dave Sindelar, Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings

“Both the original film and this later iteration essentially function as vehicles for their stars, and suffer from rather lame, unnecessarily complex screenplays — but Scared Stiff, unfortunately, is even more awkwardly paced than its predecessor, taking 80 long minutes to finally bring the protagonists to their spooky destination…”

” …mostly sticks to the original except for the addition of several bad song and dance numbers and even worse comedy routines.” Peter Dendle, The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia

“George Marshall directs it all with an appropriate light touch.” John Stanley, Creature Features

“Oddly enough, a comedy highlight in the picture is handled by uncredited Frank Fontaine, playing a drunk who thinks Martin is a ventriloquist when he is caught talking to Lewis, hidden in a trunk at dock side. The comedy team is in its element in the story’s slap-stick harum-scarum.” Variety, December 31, 1952

Buy on DVD:

“True enough, Mr. Lewis does shiver and jump in the most extravagant ways when stranded alone in the recesses of the haunted castle to which he and Mr. Martin are led by Lizabeth Scott […] However, these vigorous pretensions of terror and agony appear decidedly labored and mechanical in this scratchily put-together film.” Bosley Crowther, The New York Times, July 3, 1953

Cast and characters:

  • Dean Martin as Larry Todd
  • Jerry Lewis as Myron Mertz
  • Lizabeth Scott as Mary Carroll
  • Carmen Miranda as Carmelita Castinha
  • George Dolenz as Mr. Cortega
  • Dorothy Malone as Rosie
  • William Ching as Tony Warren
  • Paul Marion as Ramon Cariso / Francisco Cariso
  • Jack Lambert as Zombie
  • Tony Barr as Trigger
  • Leonard Strong as Shorty
  • Henry Brandon as Pierre
  • Frank Fontaine as the drunk on the pier


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