AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Scared Stiff
Director: George Marshall (Dir)
Release Date:   Jun 1953
Premiere Information:   Los Angeles opening: week of 28 May 1953
Production Date:   late May--mid-Jul 1952
Duration (in mins):   106-108
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Cast:   Dean Martin (Larry Todd)  
    Jerry Lewis (Myron Mertz)  
    Lizabeth Scott (Mary Carroll)  
    Carmen Miranda (Carmelita Castina)  
    George Dolenz (Cortega)  
    Dorothy Malone (Rosie)  
    William Ching (Tony Warren)  
    Paul Marion (Ramon and Francisco Carriso)  
    Jack Lambert (Zombie)  
    Tom Powers (Police lieutenant)  
    Anthony Barr (Trigger)  
    Leonard Strong (Shorty)  
    Henry Brandon (Pierre)  
    Hugh Sanders (Cop on pier)  
    Frank Fontaine (Drunk)  
    Earl Holliman (Elevator boy)  
    Bob Hope (Himself)  
    Bing Crosby (Himself)  

Summary: After nightclub waiter Pierre is forced into a car by a gun-toting gangster named Trigger, bumbling busboy Myron Mertz tells his longtime friend, Larry Todd, the club's singer, that Trigger's boss Shorty demanded that Pierre be brought to him because Pierre had been romancing Shorty's girl friend Rosie. As Larry also has been flirting with Rosie, he departs in a panic. When Shorty then telephones the club, asking for Larry, Myron decides to help his friend by going to the gangster's hotel room and pleading his case. At the hotel, meanwhile, Mary Carroll, who occupies the room across from Shorty's, arouses Trigger's suspicions when a thunderstorm causes the lights to go out and she jokingly comments that it is a good night for a murder. In her suite, Mary then discusses the castle she recently inherited from her grandfather with the estate's executor, Cortega. Mary looks forward to seeing the castle, which is on Lost Island, off the coast of Cuba, but Cortega warns her that it has long been haunted. After Cortega reveals that an anonymous buyer has offered $50,000 for the castle, Mary receives a call from a stranger named Ramon Carriso, who advises her against selling the castle and asks to meet her. Myron, meanwhile, arrives at the hotel, but loses his nerve outside Shorty's suite. Myron allows his conscience to talk him into continuing and soon is being roughed up by Shorty's thugs, who have murdered Pierre. Just then, Larry shows up and sees Ramon lurking in the hallway. Seconds later, Ramon and Cortega, who is in his room, shoot at each other, and a confused Larry draws his own gun and fires it in Ramon's direction. The shots cause Shorty and his men to flee, and Myron dashes into the hallway, while Cortega surreptitiously grabs Ramon's gun. Hearing the police arrive, Larry forces his way into Mary's suite and begs her to protect him. Larry assumes the victim was one of Shorty's men and tells Mary that he shot in self-defense. When the police knock on her door, Mary shoves Larry into her bedroom and tries to hide Larry's dropped polka-dotted scarf, which another guest has identified as belonging to the gunman. After the police search the bedroom and leave empty-handed, Mary and Myron realize that Larry shut himself in her trunk, which has since been sent to the pier from which Mary's ship to Cuba is sailing. Myron rushes to the pier and frees Larry from Mary's trunk, but when Myron sees Trigger searching the pier, he jumps into the trunk. A drunk then comes along and, hearing Myron conversing with Larry, assumes that Larry is an amazing ventriloquist and tells a passing policeman about him. When Mary arrives, Larry abandons the still-encased Myron to speak with her, and Myron ends up on the ship. With Trigger and the police still in the vicinity, Larry decides to board the ocean liner with Mary. The ship sails before Myron is released from the trunk, but he quickly arranges transportation back to shore. Larry, however, has read a newspaper story about the shooting, which identifies Ramon as the victim and states that he was killed with a .38 caliber gun, not a .32 caliber like Larry's, and realizes that he did not fire the fatal bullet. Aware that Mary was to meet Ramon and that she has received a threatening note, Larry declares to Myron that they are going to Cuba to protect her. During the voyage, Larry and Myron join singer Carmelita Castina in entertaining the passengers, and Larry saves Mary from a falling fire bucket that has been dropped by a mysterious stranger with a scarred arm. Later, while Cortega beseeches Myron and Larry to keep Mary away from the island, Mary finds a knife stuck in her cabin door. She then runs into Tony Warren, an old friend who lives in Cuba, and he identifies the knife as a voodoo artifact and talks about the zombies on Lost Island. Upon landing in Cuba, Larry and Myron slip away from their hotel and row to Lost Island. As they enter the castle, they are spotted by an old woman, who orders her zombie son to follow them. Inside, Larry and Myron see ghostly apparitions and a portrait of Mary's great-great grandmother, whom Mary closely resembles. Mary then arrives in another boat and hears a disembodied voice warning her to leave. Myron and Larry are stalked by the zombie, but when Mary suddenly appears in her ancestor's dress, the zombie becomes confused long enough for Myron and Larry to lock him in a closet. While Myron keeps watch upstairs, Mary and Larry inspect the castle's downstairs mausoleum and soon discover clues to a hidden treasure. When Mary and Larry play certain notes on the mausoleum's organ, one of the coffin lids opens, revealing a fatally wounded Cortega. With his dying breath, Cortega tells Mary that he tried to protect her from murderous treasure hunters. The spooked Myron then falls into the mausoleum through a trap door, and Mary and Larry uncover the entrance to the underground treasure room. After descending, Larry and Mary are surprised by Ramon's twin brother Francisco, who demands to know who killed Ramon. Just then, Tony, whose arm is scarred, appears and shoots at Francisco, wounding him. Tony admits that after he unearthed the treasure, he hired Cortega and Ramon to scare Mary away, but killed Cortega when he turned against him. As Tony is about to kill Mary and Larry, Myron starts to play "Chopsticks" on the organ and triggers another trap door to open under Tony. Later, with Tony out of the way, Larry and Mary plan their Lost Island wedding. When they see skeletons sporting the heads of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, however, they run from the castle in terror. 

Production Company: Wallis-Hazen, Inc.  
  Paramount Pictures Corp.  
Distribution Company: Paramount Pictures Corp.  
Director: George Marshall (Dir)
  C. C. Coleman Jr. (Asst dir)
Producer: Hal B. Wallis (Prod)
Writer: Herbert Baker (Scr)
  Walter DeLeon (Scr)
  Ed Simmons (Addl dial)
  Norman Lear (Addl dial)
Photography: Ernest Laszlo (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Hal Pereira (Art dir)
  Franz Bachelin (Art dir)
Film Editor: Warren Low (Ed supv)
Set Decoration: Sam Comer (Set dec)
  Ross Dowd (Set dec)
Costumes: Edith Head (Cost)
Music: Joseph J. Lilley (Mus dir)
  Leith Stevens (Mus score)
Sound: Hugo Grenzbach (Sd rec)
  Walter Oberst (Sd rec)
Special Effects: Gordon Jennings (Spec photog eff)
  Paul Lerpae (Spec photog eff)
  Farciot Edouart (Process photog)
Dance: Billy Daniels (Mus numbers staged by)
Make Up: Wally Westmore (Makeup supv)
Production Misc: Rudy McKool (Dial coach)
  Richard Blaydon (Prod mgr)
Country: United States
Language: English

Music:
Songs: "San Domingo," "Song of the Enchilada Man" and "When Someone Wonderful Thinks You're Wonderful," words and music by Mack David and Jerry Livingston; "I Don't Care If the Sun Don't Shine," words and music by Mack David; "Mamãe eu quero (Mama yo quiero)," English words by Al Stillman, Spanish words by Jorge Negrete, original words and music by Jararaca and Vicente Paiva; "You Hit the Spot," words by Mack Gordon, music by Harry Revel; "What Have You Done for Me Lately," words and music by Philip Springer and Richard Adler.
Composer: Richard Adler
  Mack David
  Mack Gordon
  Jararaca
  Jerry Livingston
  Jorge Negrete
  Vicente Paiva
  Harry Revel
  Philip Springer
  Al Stillman
Source Text: Based on the play The Ghost Breaker by Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard (New York, 5 Mar 1909).
Authors: Charles W. Goddard
  Paul Dickey

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Wallis-Hazen, Inc. 1/6/1953 dd/mm/yyyy LP2685

PCA NO: 16010
Physical Properties: Sd: Western Electric Recording
  b&w:

 
Genre: Comedy
  Mystery
Sub-Genre: with songs
 
 
Subjects (Major): Bumblers
  Castles
  Cuba
  Duplicity
  Singers
  Treasure
 
Subjects (Minor): Busboys
  Conscience
  Drunkenness
  Female impersonation
  Gangsters
  Ghosts
  Hotels
  Inheritance
  Islands
  Jealousy
  Murder
  Nightclubs
  Organs
  Police
  Rowboats
  Scars
  Ships
  Shootings
  Skeletons
  Spaghetti
  Tombs
  Trunks (Luggage)
  Twins
  Voodoo
  Waiters
  Zombies

Note: Scared Stiff was Carmen Miranda's final film. The Portuguese-Brazilian musical star died of a heart attack in 1953. In the film, Jerry Lewis impersonates Miranda and lipsyncs one of her signature numbers, "Mama yo quiero." Lewis also imitates Humphrey Bogart in one scene. According to an Apr 1952 HR news item, Lewis and co-star Dean Martin initially failed to report for work on the picture, claiming they were dissatisfied with the script. Modern sources, however, state that Martin and Lewis, who had become enormous box-office stars by the time of the film's production, refused to appear because they wanted out of their contract with Paramount producer Hal Wallis. In late May, according to modern sources, Martin and Lewis signed a new contract with Wallis, which guaranteed them $1,000,000 a year and required that they make only one Paramount release per year. HR news items add Erno Verebes, Herb Golden, Danny Arnold and Frankie Branda to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Modern sources add Billy Daniel ( Dancer ) and Joe Gray ( Longshoreman ) to the cast.
       Paramount released three earlier adaptations of Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard's play. In 1914, Cecil B. DeMille and Oscar C. Apfel directed H. B. Warner in The Ghost Breaker (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20 ); Alfred E. Green directed Wallace Reid in a 1922 version, titled The Ghost Breaker (see AFI Catalog of Feature Fims, 1921-30 ); and in 1940, George Marshall, who directed Scared Stiff , directed Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard in The Ghost Breakers (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50 ). 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   4 Apr 1953.   
Daily Variety   14 Apr 53   p. 3.
Film Daily   27 Apr 53   p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Apr 52   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   29 May 52   p. 8, 13.
Hollywood Reporter   9 Jun 52   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Jun 52   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   10 Jul 52   p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter   17 Jul 52   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Apr 53   p. 3.
Los Angeles Times   28 May 1953.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   18 Apr 53   p. 1798.
New York Times   3 Jul 53   p. 10.
Newsweek   20 Jul 1953.   
Time   29 Jun 1953.   
Variety   15 Apr 53   p. 6.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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