Scared Stiff
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGeorge Marshall
Screenplay by
Based onThe Ghost Breaker
(1909 play)
by Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard
Produced byHal B. Wallis
CinematographyErnest Laszlo
Edited byWarren Low
Music byLeith Stevens
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • April 27, 1953 (1953-04-27)
Running time
108 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$3.5 million (US)[1]
811,256 admissions (France)[2]

Scared Stiff is a 1953 American supernatural fiction-themed comedy horror semi-musical film, directed by George Marshall and starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. One of the 17 films made by the Martin and Lewis team, it was released on April 27, 1953 by Paramount Pictures. It is the fourth screen adaptation of the 1909 play The Ghost Breaker by Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard, previously filmed under that title in 1914 and 1922 and as The Ghost Breakers in 1940.

Scared Stiff was Carmen Miranda's final film appearance, as she died two years later in August 1955.


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



The team's ninth picture, Scared Stiff is a remake of Paramount's previous effort, The Ghost Breakers, a 1940 "scare comedy" starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard, also directed by George Marshall.[3] The property has proven successful for Paramount in decades past and they've 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.

Martin and Lewis had a cameo in Hope and Bing Crosby's Road to Bali the previous year as part of a "comedy trade" between the two teams. In turn, Hope and Crosby appear for a cameo in Scared Stiff. Both shared a common producer, Cy Howard, who produced Martin and Lewis' first two My Friend Irma pictures and That's My Boy. A few years later, Martin and Frank Sinatra appeared in the final scene of the final Hope and Crosby road picture, Road to Hong Kong.

According to Lewis, both he and Martin were against making the picture, as they found the original to be satisfactory. However, because the film was a Paramount property that producer Hal B. Wallis felt was one that could be successful in the comedy team's hands, he held the two to their contract for the film.[3]

Scared Stiff was filmed from June 2 through July 17, 1952. It was the first film of the team's available in 3-track, stereophonic sound. Some reviews at the time commented on the soundtrack's use of stereo enhancing gag sequences.[4] The stereo tracks for this film are now considered lost. As with most films of the team's work, it garnered a re-release in 1958 on a double bill with another Martin and Lewis picture, Jumping Jacks.

Norman Lear was credited with "additional dialogue." It was his first writing credit on a Hollywood film.

Scared Stiff turned out to be the last film for Carmen Miranda who died two years later, shortly after completing an episode of The Jimmy Durante Show on TV. In the film, Jerry Lewis impersonates Miranda and lip syncs one of her signature numbers, "Mamãe Eu Quero".[5]

Home media

Paramount released Scared Stiff on home video in November 1992.[6] The film was included on an eight-film DVD set, the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis Collection: Volume One, released on October 31, 2006.[7]


Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote, "The nonsense herein contrived is not an inspired presentation of the comic qualities of the two boys."[8] Variety wrote that Martin and Lewis "provide a free-wheeling round of slapstick hilarity".[9] Writing in The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia, academic Peter Dendle called the film an annoying remake that "mostly sticks to the original except for the addition of several bad song and dance numbers and even worse comedy routines".[10]

On Rotten Tomatoes the film holds a rating of 71% based on 7 reviews, with an average rating of 5.83/10.[11]


  1. ^ "The Top Box Office Hits of 1953", Variety, January 13, 1954.
  2. ^ Box office information for film in France at Box Office Story
  3. ^ a b Neibaur, James L. and Okuda, Ted: Jerry Lewis Films, The: an analytical filmography of the innovative comic, pp. 62–72. McFarland & Company, Inc, 1995.
  4. ^ "Paramount Offers Zany Comedy Team", Oakland Tribune, Oakland, CA. June 12, 1953, p. 39.
  5. ^ "American Film Institute Catalog: Scared Stiff". p. American Film Institute Catalog. Retrieved March 14, 2014.
  6. ^ Hunt, Dennis (1992-11-06). "To Retailers, Disney's 'Beast' Is a Beaut". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2015-02-10.
  7. ^ Clark, Mike (2006-10-31). "DVD watch". USA Today. Retrieved 2015-02-10.
  8. ^ Crowther, Bosley (1953-07-03). "Scared Stiff (1953)". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-02-10.
  9. ^ "Review: 'Scared Stiff'". Variety. 1953. Retrieved 2015-02-10.
  10. ^ Dendle, Peter (2001). The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia. McFarland & Company. pp. 154–155. ISBN 978-0-7864-9288-6.
  11. ^ "Scared Stiff". Rotten Tomatoes.