Review: Scared Stiff (1945)

Scared Stiff is a 1945 comedic whodunnit in which a bumbling newspaper chess reporter (was there ever such a thing in real life?) finds himself entangled in a murder plot with a jeweled set of chess pieces as the McGuffin. Misunderstandings and wacky shenanigans pad out a thin plot built of Three's Company proportions.

Jack Haley (the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz) is likable enough as the lead, but the real draw for me is Ann Savage who gives a warm, charismatic turn that stands in stark contrast to her iconic performance in Ulmer’s noir classic Detour, which hit theaters the same year. Veda Ann Borg, whom I just recently watched in the poverty row jungle picture Blonde Savage, fills out the supporting cast as an insurance detective. For those of us who love seeing strong women in Golden Age roles, we've got a winner. 

While I really enjoy the cast, the movie is middling. It was made by Pine-Thomas Productions, a B-movie unit under the purview of Paramount Pictures, but the copyright wasn’t renewed and it slipped into the public domain (d'oh!), dooming it to poor prints forevermore. In 1955, Scared Stiff was included in a television package of 30 films, but the name was changed to Treasure of Fear to avoid confusion with the popular (and better) Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis movie Scared Stiff

Chances are, the renamed TV print is the one you’re most likely to find when searching for this movie. It’s blurry, but watchable. I screened the film on a disc from Alpha Video. Scared Stiff is forgettable, but not without its charms; a joke about “waiting for the other shoe to drop” actually made me laugh out loud. It’s a potato chip of a movie--gone immediately--but it isn’t unpleasant. Saturday matinee cowboys take note: directing duties were handled by Frank McDonald, who helmed many westerns starring Gene Autry and Roy Rogers


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