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Entertaining Cast, But Best Left To Hardcore Lugosi Fans
Bela Lugosi had a notable career during the 1930s--but success of his landmark performance in the 1931 Dracula combined and his exotic appearance and accent left him typecast, and during the 1940s he found work increasingly difficult to obtain. By the mid-1940s he was so greatly pressed that he began to accept work in low-budget independent movies. Among the first of these was the 1947 SCARED TO DEATH, a film often described as the only color movie in which Lugosi appeared. This is not strictly true: although he was not the star, Lugosi also appeared the color 1930 VIENNESE NIGHTS--but given that both films are so little known it's hardly worth arguing about.
The story begins with a clever idea: a woman's body lies on a slab in a morgue and through flashback she relates the way in which she was murdered. Sad to say, though, this clever idea is not only badly executed, it also happens to be the only clever idea in the entire show. The plot, such as it is, concerns a doctor with a questionable background whose son has married a woman with a questionable background (our soon-to-be corpse.) The family is suddenly descended upon by the doctor's brother, a hypnotist (Lugosi, of course) with, yes, a questionable past. Throw in a surly maid, a mean dwarf, a newspaper reporter, a dumb blonde, and a green mask that keeps floating in front of the window and you have SCARED TO DEATH.
The only saving grace in this nonsense is the cast. Although he receives star billing, Lugosi's role might be better described as the second lead; whatever the case, and in spite of a truly ridiculous script, he gives the role more sparkle than you would expect. The film also includes a number of character actors who like Lugosi shone most brightly in the 1930s--George Zucco, Nat Pendleton, and Joyce Compton--and they too deliver more than the silly script actually allows.
Even so, the charms of the cast cannot raise SCARED TO DEATH above the level of slightly-less-than-mediocre, and for the most part watching the movie is an uphill battle. Lugosi would go on to make one or two more films for major studios, most notably the 1948 ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, and he would make a few television appearances as well, but for the most part SCARED TO DEATH would mark the beginning of his career's rapid slide into the likes of BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA and his wildly dire association with the notorious Ed Wood in such appalling (and accidentally hilarious) films as GLEN OR GLENDA and PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.
For the sake of Lugosi, Zucco, Pendleton, and Compton I'm giving SCARED TO DEATH three stars, but truth be told it really doesn't deserve more than two, and that's throwing roses at it. Although it does have a few moments--and I do mean a very few--this is one Lugosi film that is best left to die-hard fans.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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