Scared to Death (1947 film)

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Scared to Death
Original 1947 theatrical release poster
Directed by Christy Cabanne
Written byW.J. Abbott
Based onplay Murder on the Operating Table by Frank Orsino
Produced byWilliam B. David
Cinematography Marcel Le Picard
Edited byGeorge McGuire
Music byCarl Hoefle
Golden Gate Pictures
Distributed by Screen Guild Productions
Release date
  • February 1, 1947 (1947-02-01)(United States)
Running time
65 minutes [1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$135,000 (estimated) [2]

Scared to Death is a 1947 American gothic thriller film directed by Christy Cabanne and starring Bela Lugosi, George Zucco, Nat Pendleton and Molly Lamont. [3] The picture was filmed in Cinecolor. The film is historically important as the only color film in which Bela Lugosi has a starring role. [4] [5] Lionel Atwill was originally slated to appear in the film, but he was too ill to work, so George Zucco replaced him in the cast. Christy Cabanne completed the film in early 1946, but it wasn't screened until 1947. [6]



Lugosi and Rossitto Bela Lugosi-Angelo Rossitto in Scared to Death.jpg
Lugosi and Rossitto
Scared to Death (1947) trailer 2.jpg

The film opens with the disclosure by morgue examiners that a beautiful woman has literally died of fright. The plot reveals how she reached the fatal stage of terror.

The woman is married to the son of a doctor, the proprietor of a private sanatorium, where she is under unwilling treatment. Both the son and the doctor indicate they want the marriage dissolved. Arriving at the scene is a mysterious personage (Bela Lugosi) identified as the doctor's cousin who had been a stage magician in Europe. He is accompanied by a threatening dwarf (Angelo Rossitto).

After it is apparent that the wife is terrified of the foreigners, it is disclosed that she is the former wife and stage partner of a Paris magician known as René, who was believed to have been shot by the Nazis. Attempts to draw a confession that she had betrayed her magician husband and had collaborated with the Nazis led to the use of a device employing a death mask of the supposedly dead patriot, which literally frightens her to death.

Although the young newspaperman hero and his sweetheart guess the answer to the story, they allow the diagnosis "scared to death" to stand.



The film was based on a one-act play which in turn was based on a 1933 murder case involving Dr. Alice Wynekoop. [7]

The film was announced in March 1946 as Accent on Horror. [8] The Autopsy was another title that was considered. [9]


Historian Gary Don Rhodes commented that although the film was in color, "nothing manages to stave off the inevitable boredom. Critics found the film confusing, dull....Very possibly this remains Lugosi's worst horror film." [10]

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  1. Lugosi: His Life on Film, Stage, and in the Hearts of Horror Lovers by Gary D. Rhodes (2006) McFarland & Company. pg.136. ISBN 978-0786427659.
  2. Internet Movie Database Box office/Business for
  3. Erickson, Hal. "Scared to Death". Allmovie. Archived from the original on March 26, 2019. Retrieved April 7, 2019.
  4. "Scared to Death (1947) - Christy Cabanne, William Christy Cabanne | Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related | AllMovie". Archived from the original on 2014-05-02. Retrieved 2014-09-14.
  5. Archived 2015-10-31 at the Wayback Machine [ bare URL ]
  6. Lugosi: His Life on Film, Stage, and in the Hearts of Horror Lovers by Gary D. Rhodes (2006) McFarland & Company. pg. 136. ISBN 978-0786427659
  7. Mark Thomas McGee, Talk's Cheap, Action's Expensive: The Films of Robert L. Lippert, Bear Manor Media, 2014 p 108
  8. Schallert, E. (Mar 29, 1946). "Small plans classic; quints deal hovers". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest   165659150.
  9. Lugosi: His Life on Film, Stage, and in the Hearts of Horror Lovers by Gary D. Rhodes (2006) McFarland & Company. pg. 136. ISBN 978-0786427659
  10. Lugosi: His Life on Film, Stage, and in the Hearts of Horror Lovers by Gary D. Rhodes (2006) McFarland & Company. pg. 136. ISBN 978-0786427659