Smiling Ghost (1941)
Directed by Lewis Seiler with a screenplay by Kenneth Gamet and Stuart Palmer that was based on Palmer’s original story this mildly entertaining (B movie) mystery comedy features one of prolific racially typecast character actor Willie Best’s longest on-screen performances. Though billed only eighth Best (in a subservient and fairly stereotypical if expanded role for him) appears and speaks as much as any other actor save top-billed lovable lug Wayne Morris (his last film before as a Navy reservist he would serve during World War II becoming a highly decorated flying ace). Brenda Marshall Alexis Smith Alan Hale Lee Patrick David Bruce and Helen Westley are credit listed before Best.
Unable to find enough work as a chemical engineer to sustain his business “Lucky” Downing (Morris) puts an open advertisement for his services in the newspaper. Months behind paying his rent and his only employee Clarence (Best) Lucky is thrilled when an old wealthy woman named Bentley (Westley) offers him $1000 to pretend to be her granddaughter’s fiancé for one month. He’s even more excited when he meets Elinor Bentley (Smith) who’s an attractive blonde debutante that insists that he kiss her passionately to keep up appearances. Hale plays the Bentley’s butler named Norton; Patrick plays Elinor’s sister Rose Fairchild (Roland Drew plays Rose’s husband Hilton).
Unfortunately Lucky soon learns that he’s Elinor’s fourth fiancé and that the first three are dead or suffered mysterious accidents. Newspaper reporter Lil Barstow (Marshall) who’s paper dubs Elinor the ‘Kiss of Death’ clues Lucky in as to his possible fate. Since Rose stands to loose the family jewels to her younger sister when Elinor gets married suspicions are cast upon her and her husband. Lil takes Lucky to meet Paul Myron (Bruce) who’d been fiancé number 2 and now lives with the aid of an iron lung. Naturally Lucky and Clarence then want to get out of the Bentley’s haunted house (complete with a sliding picture ‘window’ and rotating wall-door) which includes an eccentric old uncle Ames (an unrecognizable Charles Halton) that makes shrunken heads; Clarence’s ‘type’ will complete Ames’s collection.
The setting proceeds to a fog enshrouded cemetery where Lucky and Lil with Clarence in tow go to check the crypt where fiancé number one’s coffin is located (e.g. to see if he’s really alive and responsible for the subsequent murders and attempts) and then to the mansion’s dark basement full of spider webs before the mystery is solved.