Movie Review: The Smiling Ghost (1941)

Synopsis: Out of work and with bill collectors pounding on his door, chemical engineer Lucky Downing accepts $1,000 to pretend to be engaged to beautiful heiress Elinor Bentley Fairchild for one month. He is thrilled to be making money for easy work until he learns Elinor's previous three fiancés were attacked by a mysterious figure known as the Smiling Ghost and his life is likely in danger.

Who's in it? The movie stars Wayne Morris, Brenda Marshall, Alexis Smith, Alan Hale and Willie Best.

Review: I had this movie in my library for a few weeks and finally had an opportunity to sit down and watch it earlier today. At first, I wasn't really sure what to expect from it, but it ended up being an entertaining film.

I think the thing I liked best about this movie is, in addition to being funny, it has a good mystery. At first, the ghost/killer seemed obvious since there were those who had motive to make sure Elinor (Smith) didn't get married. However, there were quite a few quirky characters in that household, including an alcoholic insomniac (Richard Ainley), an eccentric uncle who collects shrunken heads (Charles Halton) and a butler (Hale) who doesn't act like a butler and may not be who he claims to be.

The ghost also looking like her first fiancé opened up the possibility of him still being alive and committing the murders. However, him killing others just because Elinor ended their engagement seemed a little farfetched as a motive, and it seemed a lot like a red herring.

The fact there are two attractive female characters/potential love interests for Lucky (Morris) also added to the mystery. Both Elinor and Lil (Marshall) had the potential to turn out to be the bad guy too, Lil was looking for a story and Elinor just seemed manipulative. Even if neither of them turned out to be the bad guy, it did briefly make me wonder who he would end up with at the end.

The end of the movie was interesting to watch, with Lucky and Elinor trying to draw the killer out by getting married and going head-to-head with the bad guy in the basement of the house. It also does a good job keeping the killer's identity a secret until the very end, though I am proud to say I did guess correctly (not because of any clues, just because I've seen enough of these movies to make an accurate educated guess).

Final Opinion: Some of the comedy was a little dated, especially with Willie Best's character, Clarence, but the movie proved to be both funny and an entertaining mystery. I'd recommend it.

My Grade: A


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