Lucky Downing (Wayne Morris) has debts and needs a job. He puts an ad in the newspaper offering his services. Lucky’s ad states that he is a single engineer willing to do anything legal. The ad is seen by Mrs. Bentley (Helen Westley) and her attorney, Mr. Dinwiddie (George Meader). Mrs. Bently offers Lucky one thousand dollars plus expenses to pretend to be engaged to her granddaughter, Elinor Bentley Fairchild (Alexis Smith). Lucky agrees.
What they don’t tell Lucky is that Elinor’s last three fiancés didn’t fair too well. The first, Johnny Eggleston drowned, the second, Paul Myron (David Bruce) ended up paralyzed from a car accident and the third, Alan Winters was bitten by a poisonous snake. The newspapers dubbed the socialite the “kiss of death girl”. The newspapers refer to the killer as the “Smiling Ghost” because of witness statements that the killer appeared as a white smiling specter. A reporter, Lil Barstow (Brenda Marshall) is friends with the paralyzed Paul and has been investigating the deaths.
Lucky is taken to the Fairchild estate with his friend and right-hand man, Clarence (Willie Best). Lucky meets the remaining family members, Cousin Rose Fairchild (Lee Patrick), Cousin Tennant Bentley (Richard Ainley), Cousin Hilton Fairchild (Roland Drew) and Great Uncle Ames Bentley (Charles Halton).
As soon as Lucky and Clarence settle in, strange things begin to happen. The ghost attacks Tennant thinking he is Lucky. Lil tells Lucky about the Smiling Ghost and what happened to all of Elinor’s suitors. Lucky decides to get out while he can but is talked into staying when Elinor begins to actually fall in love with him. Lucky himself is a little smitten with the beautiful heiress and decides to stay and catch the ghost.
“The Smiling Ghost” was released in 1941 and was directed by Lewis Seiler. It is a low budget American “B” movie comedy murder mystery.
This is your basic romantic comedy murder mystery from the late thirties and early forties. Dozens were cranked out to satisfy the public’s need for something light and fluffy to escape real life problems. They are not great cinema, but they are fun to watch and an interesting slice of America.
The best part of the movie is Willie Best. Stuck in his usual roll of wide-eyed servant he manages to steal every scene he is in, and he is in more than you would expect, despite the racial stereotyping. Second in line was Alan Hale Sr. as the down to earth butler, Norton. He was actually pretty funny.
The movie moves along at a quick pace. With its cast of eccentric characters, it manages to give you some entertaining lines, delivered well.