Monday, September 14, 2009

Lugosi is wasted in this so-so comedy

One Body Too Many (1944)
Starring: Jack Haley, Jean Parker, Bernard Nedell, Bela Lugosi, Lyle Talbot, and Lucien Littlefield
Director: Frank McDonald
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Insurance salesman Albert Tuttle (Haley) arrives to sell a millionaire life insurance, only to find that his customer is already deceased and his greedy family members are at his house to fulfill the terms of his unusual will. Albert's night goes from bad to worse when he is recruited to help watch the body (which is laying in state in the house until construction on a special crypt is finished), as the estate's executor (Nedell) fears the some of the relatives may try to circumvent the terms of the will. And can anything more happen once Albert is attacked and the body is stolen? Well, there's always murder....

"One Body Too Many" is a film that history has passed by. It's a straight-up spoof of "the dark old house" mystery subgenre that flourished in the 1930s and early 1940s. That genre so long out of favor that it is barely remembered (although several horror movies in recent years have incorporated elements of the genre, with "See No Evil" being perhaps the most prominent of them), and much of its humor is therefore somewhat muted to the modern viewer. Although, those who remember the "Scooby-Doo" cartoons are familiar with the standard elements of the genre, as bioth "Scooby-Doo" and this film features (and pokes fun) at all them, such as the setting of a gothic mansion that is honey-combed with bad electrical wiring and secret passages, full of creepy servants, crooked relatives, andshadowy killers, and beset by rain and thunderstorms that come and go depending on the needs of the plot.

The film features a solid cast and decent sets, even if the rooftop observatory left a lot to be desired. Jack Haley, as the hapless Albert Tuttle, brings about many chuckles, and he does a fine turn as the start of this comedy. Despite the fact that Bela Lugosi's name and face are huuuge on the DVD case of this film, his part is rather small. Further, while he and Haley play off each other in one of the film's funniest exchanges--where Lugosi, playing Murkil the butler, has to explain the mud on his shoes--he doesn't get to show off his all-too-rarely used talent for comedy. The running gag with the servants and the coffee, which pays off in the film's final scene, isn't one that required a great deal of skill to deliver.

Script-wise, it's okay, but there's nothing particularly bad, but there's also nothing particuarly spectacular. There only one part that doesn't work on any level, and that's when three of the relatives decide to take the coffin and hide it in the pool. The action makes no sense and the schtick that it lets Haley do isn't particularly funny. The rest of the fillm is pleasently amusing, however.

While "One Body Too Many" isn't a film that I would necessarily recommend buying on its own, it does add to the value of any DVD multipack it is featured in. It's also a fine candidate for a Netflix rental if you enjoy comedies and mysteries from the 1930s and 1940s.

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