“The Smiling Ghost” (1941) is one of those fast-paced scary/silly B-movies that the Warner Bros. studio could knock out in its sleep. There’s a lot to amuse here, and a bit of a mystery, but mostly it’s a lot of scary house clichés as harmless as a handful of candy corn.Unless you’re allergic to candy corn.
Or unless candy corn offends you.
There’s only one offense here in this well-intentioned free-for-all, and that’s the stereotyped character of Willie Best, who plays the longsuffering assistant of Wayne Morris. To Mr. Best’s credit, he gets some good lines and his delivery is hysterical. I think he probably gets more screen time than anybody in this movie except for Wayne Morris.
Wayne Morris, a befuddled victim/suitor who agrees to pretend to be engaged for one month to a jinxed girl for $1,000 (her former fiancés are all either incapacitated or dead), is a sweet fellow who really needs Willie Best to look after him. I like how when they are called to the attorney’s office to set up the deal, the receptionist asks which gentleman is the client, not presuming that it’s the white guy and calling them both gentlemen. Willie takes charge and speaks up, because it always takes poor slow Wayne a minute to sort things out: “The light-complected gentleman here.”
Barbara Marshall is the sane and sassy girl reporter, because you just have to have a girl reporter in these things.He’s a regular Joe, who talks gruff and carries a gun. He’s supposed to guard Wayne Morris, because Wayne is supposed to break the curse. If he lives.
Wayne Morris meets the dour extended family, including a crazy uncle, played by Charles Halton, who shrinks heads in his laboratory. Mr. Morris settles into to a spooky night, oblivious to the fact he might be victim number four.We have secret panels, cobwebs in the cellar, cobwebs in the family crypt, a fog-shrouded graveyard, and best of all, a thunderstorm during which we hear peals of “The Storm” from Rossini’s William Tell, which you will recognize from many, many Warner Bros. cartoons.
He lends some excitement to the proceedings, but for my money, the scariest sight in this movie is the fellow, one of the former fiancés who lived, but who is now paralyzed—encased in an iron lung. Jeez, those things were frightening.
And if you think about it, just the shot of watching the patient through the mirror mounted on the top of the machine suggests a disembodied head.
True love conquers all in the end, including one disgruntled smiling ghost.One of my favorite lines, when the Justice of the Peace arrives to perform a midnight wedding, “The Justice of…stuff is here.”