Scared Stiff (1945)

“Have you got a woman in this room?”

A dead body, an antique chess set, and two scheming women are at the heart of the surprisingly entertaining little mystery, Scared Stiff. Bumbling reporter, Larry Elliot (Jack Haley) is given an assignment to cover the chess tournament at the Grape City Harvest Festival and interview the new Miss Muscat. This is Larry’s last chance to prove himself as a news reporter, and if he fails on this assignment, his uncle, who owns the paper, has threatened to give Larry the boot. Distracted at the Greyhound bus station by beautiful redhead, Sally Warren (Ann Savage), Larry gets on the wrong bus and goes to an Inn at Grape Central. Just as Larry realises his mistake and tries to leave, a body is discovered on the bus. Larry has to stay at the inn until the police arrive to investigate the case.

Scared Stiff or Treasure of Fear is about 64 minutes long. The film is well paced and full of some great characters. Twin brothers Charles and Preston Waldeck own the inn, and the brothers each own half of an extremely valuable jeweled chess set. There’s a pushy blonde, Flo Rosson (Veda Ann Borg) who makes overtures to Larry, and there’s an obnoxious bratty child prodigy, a chess player who annoys everyone. Escaped criminal George Markham (Barton MacLane) is also on the loose.

Jack Haley’s performance as Larry reminds me a little of the early Bob Hope. Larry has that sort of naivete that gets him into trouble and yet protects him at the same time. The film is saved from mediocrity by its humorous overtones. There’s one scene, for example, when Larry has the two female characters hidden in his room, and the landlord takes the moral high ground. The film’s finale is a splendid chase sequence through the wine cellars of the inn. The Alpha DVD quality is less-than-perfect. There are some spots where the film skips and the odd word of dialogue is lost. The picture and sound quality, however, are acceptable.


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