Cast & Crew
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.
C. C. Coleman Jr.
Joseph H. Hazen
Joseph J. Lilley
The exhausting pace was taking its toll, however, and with Scared Stiff Martin and Lewis took a stand. The duo was tired of being rushed into half-baked projects and Martin was frustrated with the string of colorless romantic leads who crooned a song or two and kissed the leading lady but otherwise set Lewis up for the punchlines. So they refused to show up for work, complaining that the remake was beneath them and that producer Hal Wallis was (in the words of a telegram sent to the producer) "subjugating our artistic and personal integrity to your greed." That was only half the story. They were turning out hit after hit without a raise from Wallis, who had them under contract for another year. The walkout worked. They renegotiated the contract with a substantial raise, a smaller annual commitment and the freedom to develop their own projects. Three months after complaining that the script was "degrading, offensive, insulting" and more, they reported for work on Scared Stiff with George Marshall, the director of The Ghost Breakers, taking a second swing at the material.
The film opens in New York City, where Martin takes the stage as nightclub singer and romantic lead Larry Todd and Lewis is his best friend Myron, the clumsy, disaster-prone little buddy who interrupts his act while failing to make the grade as a waiter. Martin sings "I Don't Care If the Sun Don't Shine" (a song covered by young Elvis Presley, a passionate Martin fan, during his first recording sessions) and romances Dorothy Malone, the girlfriend of a particularly jealous mobster, before he and Lewis end up on a cruise ship to Cuba and meet troubled heiress Lizabeth Scott, who has inherited a small island that is said to be haunted. Malone would take a central role in a subsequent Martin and Lewis film, Artists and Models (1955), two years later but is basically a supporting player here. She had just lost her brother and was convinced that Martin suggested her for the part to get her working again. "Martin was just so gentle," she told biographer Nick Tosches. "He never said much to me, but he just sort of guided me in my little scene...I can still remember the way he touched me to guide me into the phone booth in that scene."
Carmen Miranda is fourth billed but her role is minor, limited to a couple of comic scenes and two songs shared with Martin and Lewis. One of her signature songs, "Mamae Eu Quero," is played as backdrop for Lewis to lip-synch while parodying her performance in platform heels, exotic wraps, and fruit piled high on his head. It was her final screen appearance and she passed away two years later at the age of 46. And watch for a jokey cameo by buddies Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Lewis and Martin had made an uncredited appearance in Road to Bali (1952) as a gag and Hope and Crosby returned the favor.
The film also marks the first big screen credit of Norman Lear, who changed the face of the American sitcom in the seventies with All in the Family, Sanford and Son, Maude, Good Times, and other shows. He cut his TV comedy teeth writing Martin and Lewis's Colgate Comedy Hour scripts with Ed Simmons and the two scribes are credited with "additional dialogue" on the film. One wonders if they were responsible for tossing in the reference to Steubenville, Martin's hometown, as an inside joke.
Dean Martin: King of the Road, Michael Freedland. Robson Books, 2004.
Brazilian Bombshell, Martha Gil-Montero. Donald I. Fine, 1989.
King of Comedy, Shawn Levy. St. Martin's Griffin, 1996.
Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams, Nick Tosches. Dell, 1992.
By Sean Axmaker
Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis Collection: Volume 1 on DVD
Though TV may have preserved Martin & Lewis' act in its purest form, their film career was in many ways the most spectacular. With 16 films in seven years their schedule would have overcome many other performers, especially with the constant stream of other appearances. Even more impressive is that they were able to stay reliably solid, something you can witness on the Martin & Lewis Collection: Volume 1 (Paramount) which has eight of their first nine films and a nice Al Hirschfeld caricature on the cover. Missing is 1950's At War with the Army, produced by the duo's own York Productions; possibly the rights weren't available but you can find the film from several companies that specialize in budget public-domain films. In any case the collection is a great opportunity to follow the first half of Martin & Lewis' career and see some nice films as well. It's interesting that their path roughly paralleled Abbott and Costello's: initial tryouts in supporting roles then a trio of service comedies before moving along to genre parodies. But it's only a superficial resemblence since Abbott and Costello made films that are interesting only in bits while Martin and Lewis' films work more consistently and with greater range--perhaps driven by Jerry's infamous perfectionism or maybe it was just a studio willing to spend a bit more money.
Martin and Lewis' initial films tested the waters. Their debut was 1949's My Friend Irma, based on a popular radio show that followed the misadventures of Irma (Marie Wilson), a ditzy blonde given to malapropisms and general kookiness. Of course that's a little hard to maintain next to Jerry Lewis even when he's a bit subdued. Wilson and a few supporting players were brought over from the radio show for a story about trying to make a fortune off Dino's singing ability. The result is a pretty standard comedy for that time so it's really only Martin & Lewis' appearance that this is even remembered today. They couldn't have spent much time working on it since sections are clearly pulled directly from their nightclub act. Also of note is John Lund playing Irma's scheming lowlife boyfriend Al to the hilt. My Friend Irma Goes West (not an actual Western, fans would have to wait a few years until Pardners) appeared just eight months after the first film but oddly ignores the plot of the entire last half hour of the previous film. This time Martin & Lewis have larger roles and it doesn't hurt that Corinne Calvet was tossed in as a sexpot film star but the result is all too obviously rushed. All the outdoor Southwestern scenes are done in front of projection screens and again chunks come from Martin & Lewis' act, including a great bit where Lewis tries to conduct Martin's backing orchestra. Boyfriend Lund is toned down and Lewis does a dubious Indian impersonation but at least the film shows Martin & Lewis weren't just a one-time hit.
At War with the Army followed (missing from the set as described above) and then in 1951 That's My Boy, one of the low points of either performer's career. They're no longer supporting players but now up front and center though unfortunately trapped in a story about Lewis trying to please his football hero father with the help of quarterback Martin. A kind of Harold Lloyd retread, That's My Boy is painfully heavyhanded while rarely working as comedy and never as drama. It's the kind of film where a psychiatrist appears just long enough to explain the blatantly obvious father-son friction then promptly disappears. Some viewers might get a kick out of seeing Martin (age 34) and Lewis (25) play teenagers and others can't help but wonder whether in 1951 quarterbacks also returned punts and kicked the extra point or the studio just wanted to give Martin more screen time. The film has the look of a cheap television production with everything lit in full glare, clumsy camera movements and sets that feel like they'll tumble apart if an actor turns too suddenly. Inexplicably it was nominated for a Writer's Guild Award as best-written comedy and inspired a one-season TV show.
But put all that behind you. Martin & Lewis hit the proverbial pay dirt with Sailor Beware (1952) where the fellows somewhat unintentionally end up in the Navy and then try to win a silly bet. It was based on a play previously filmed three times but now adapted by Three Stooges scripter Elwood Ullman with additional dialogue by Abbott & Costello's regular gag writer John Grant. There's nothing tired about the resulting film because it shows Martin & Lewis to full effect in a nice mix of both verbal and physical humor. There are some nightclub bits again but also routines built out of the circumstances, one of the most memorable being Lewis' attempts to swab the deck of a submarine while unaware it's submerging. The plot itself is pretty much irrelevant but allows a wide variety of situations: a physical exam, a kissing contest, cramped ship's quarters, a Hawaiian luau. Martin sings at his most Bing Crosby-like and even makes an explicit reference to it. Add a cameo by Betty Hutton (who starred in a previous version of the film, 1942's The Fleet's In) and an early appearance by James Dean who has one line of dialogue and it's easy to see how Martin & Lewis earned so many fans.
The duo followed this success with a couple of slightly more routine but still entertaining films. Jumping Jacks (1952) places them in the paratroopers and features more military hijinks. Imagine Jerry Lewis dealing with a rough drill sergeant or trying to pack a parachute and you've got the general idea. Note that Dino's character is named Chick just as Bud Abbott was in a couple of films. The Stooge (1952) had been filmed two years earlier but withheld from release, perhaps because producer Hal Wallis reportedly didn't much like it. The film isn't in the usual Martin & Lewis mold since it's mostly a drama with comic bits and curiously the story reflects the duo themselves though it's not clear how much of that was deliberate. Martin plays a singer/performer during the 1930s who decides he should be a solo star instead. When his act bombs, Lewis helps out as an enlisted stooge and they're immediately popular but Martin still considers this a solo act and pushes Lewis' character into the background. The film captures show business self-obsession and drive clearly without becoming cliched. Both main characters are believable: Martin arrogant and star-addled, Lewis charmingly loyal and unconcerned about money. Most of the comedy is performed within the storyline, usually in wonderful routines the two do on Broadway stages, and for a touch of period authenticity all the songs but one are actually from the period. (Originally issued as Martin's first 10" album but interested fans can find them on a CD called Dean Martin Sings.) The Stooge isn't All About Eve or A Star is Born but it's certainly been unfairly dismissed over the years.
The more humorous Scared Stiff (1953) is the collection's other standout. A remake of Bob Hope's 1940 The Ghost Breaker (itself based on a play filmed twice in the silent era), this is easily the set's best-looking film due to director George Marshall and cinematographer Ernest Laszlo (Inherit the Wind among seven Oscar nominations and one win). They seem to have decided to work as if this was a straight-forward mystery with a touch of noir (most of the ghost story parody is wisely kept towards the end) so there's a visual richness to the rainy streets, foggy ship decks and moist tropical jungle that recalls classic Hollywood. Just as important Martin & Lewis are given a strong supporting cast with Lizabeth Scott as the woman in distress, Dorothy Malone as a loose showgirl, George Dolenz as an unreliable lawyer and Carmen Miranda as ship-board entertainment (her last film appearance). The songs are some of the best in the series, even novelty numbers like "Enchiladas" and "Bongo Bingo," and Dean gets one top-notch romantic ballad. Martin even opens the film with a performance of his earlier hit "I Don't Care if the Sun Don't Shine" which was recorded the following year by a young Mississippi guy named Elvis Presley. The song was originally intended for Cinderella but never made the cut and while Martin and Patti Page both had hits with it in 1950, Elvis based his version on what he saw in Scared Stiff.
The Caddy (1953) also boasts strong songs, this time from the great Harry Warren and lyricist Jack Brooks. Martin's signature "That's Amore" was introduced in this film but "What Wouldcha Do Without Me?" and "The Gay Continental" (the latter performed by Lewis alone) are just as memorable. There's the usual comedy setup; this time Lewis as a superb golfer with such stage fright that he can't play in tournaments so he pairs with the untutored talent of Martin so they can win enough money to save the fishing business of Martin's family. Oh, don't worry whether that makes much sense because again the story isn't quite the point. There are echoes of The Stooge in the way that Martin's character heads for the high life to romance Donna Reed and pushes Lewis away as merely his caddy but it never overpowers the film. After all there's an extended sequence of pure slapstick at the opening where Lewis accidentally demolishes much of a department store and he's given other comic routines to avoid growling watchdogs, deal with the low ceiling of his bedroom or simply follow his fiance home. Martin & Lewis may have been coasting through The Caddy (and their personal relations were really starting to fray at this time) but not many people could coast this productively.
The Martin & Lewis Collection features the films in the solid transfers we've come to expect. The one exception being That's My Boy which is a bit soft though since the original film wasn't very nice looking it might not much matter. There are no extras except for an occasional trailer and while nobody expects full audio commentaries and behind-the-scenes documentaries a set like this definitely deserves at least a written overview of the team's history. Let's hope that Volume 2 follows soon since it should include Martin & Lewis' masterpiece Artists and Models as well as such strong contenders as Hollywood or Bust and Living It Up.
For more information about Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis Collection: Volume 1, visit Paramount Home Entertainment. To order Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis Collection: Volume 1, go to TCM Shopping.
by Lang Thompson
Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis Collection: Volume 1 on DVD
Larry, why are you so nice to me?- Mary Carol
I don't know, I guess I've always been a sucker for girls named Mary Carol.- Larry Todd
I'm just an average girl.- Rosie
Honey, if you're an average girl then I've been dating boys.- Larry Todd
a skeleton. Hope appeared in Ghost Breakers, The (1940), of which this film is a remake.
The last film of Carmen Miranda's career.
Dean's performance of "I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine" was the influential version of the song which became Elvis Presley's second Sun single in 1954.
'George Marshall' also directed the earlier version of this film (Ghost Breakers, The (1940)).
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 April 1952 Hollywood Reporter 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. Hollywood Reporter 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).