Plot: An ad has piqued the interest of Lucky Downing (Wayne Morris), as it calls for a man “willing to do anything legal for a thousand dollars” and by his estimation, he is just such a man. He and his valet Clarence (Willie Best) meet with the ad’s creator, the wealthy Mrs. Bentley and she informs him the task is a simple one. All he needs to do is marry her granddaughter Elinor (Alexis Smith) and the cash is his, which seems too good to be true, so he jumps at the chance. What he doesn’t know is that Elinor seems to be cursed and is known as the Kiss of Death Girl, as her previous beloveds have all fallen to mysterious predicaments. As Lucky travels to meet Elinor and collect his bounty, a young reporter is working with one of Elinor’s unlucky suitors, who wants to prove that the curse is due to the infamous Smiling Ghost. He believes the ghost to be her first ill fated fiance, but while the reporter investigates, can Lucky survive the ghost and Elinor’s offbeat family?
Entertainment Value: This is a fun one, with all the elements you’d expect from an old, dark house movie, but with a strong dose of silliness. The humor is never subtle and is sometimes as corny as it gets, but The Smiling Ghost still gets laughs and packs a lot into a tight duration. At just over 70 minutes, the movie can move at a nice clip and never gets bogged down, so even if the cornball humor wears thin at times, it is never long until the next joke arrives. Of course, if these kind of hokey antics aren’t your kind of thing, then you’ll likely lose patience here, as The Smiling Ghost is over the top style wackiness throughout. The narrative is simple and doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but it is competent and sets the stage for the silly hijinks and light haunted house threads, which is all it needs to do. The cast embraces the zaniness of the material, which is what drives the movie, rather than story elements. Although this one doesn’t have real scares, it should still appeal to some horror fans, as it follows the old, dark house routine well and is a fun take on the genre. So if you like haunted house movies or ridiculous comedies, this is worth a spin.
The cast deserves a lot of the credit for why The Smiling Ghost works so well, as the script is rather thin, but this ensemble makes the most out of the wooden jokes and wacky touches. Wayne Morris is our lead and he is just about as goofy as a lead can be, a total, over the top goofball who really runs with the cheesy nature of the humor. Even the lamest jokes (and there are some real lame ones) seem humorous thanks to his scene chewing and outlandish persona. He goes for broke and The Smiling Ghost is better for it, especially since his enthusiasm seems to have been contagious. While most of the cast makes an effort to roll with the hokey humor, almost everyone is even more outrageous when sharing scenes with Morris. As fun as Morris is, Willie Best steals the show, though since the role plays on stereotypes, I can see how the performance might not hold up for everyone. But I think Best is hilarious here and he has a prominent role, so he gets a lot of screen time and never disappoints. The cast also includes Alan Hale, Lee Patrick, Brenda Marshall, and Alexis Smith.