I Saw A Film!

A pair of New England undertakers in the 19th century, in an economic downturn and owing piles of back rent decide to murder a few elderly neighbors in hopes of raising their fortune. Peter Lorre and Vincent Price are so ridiculously exaggerated in these roles already (by the time I was born, these actors were already caricatures of their scariest roles– Price, when I was a kid, had launched a cookbook and famously promoted it by talking about the terrifying use of real butter!)

Much hijinks of the Apple Dumpling Gang variety ensue, despite the story having been originated by Richard Matheson who wrote the Omega Man novel (Originally titled I Am Legend) that I once read in a high school in-house suspension.

Eventually our bumbling killers decide on taking out Basil Rathbone the holder of the lease of their property. Rathbone is entertaining himself sword in hand with a Macbeth soliloquy. One of the sillier of the jokes has Rathbone not quite being dead, but scaring the heck out of our funeral parlor goons who, one would assume, would be much better suited to recognizing death or assisting it along than the squeamish Lorre would have us believe. “I regard your actions as inimical to good fellowship!” says Rathbone as our protagonists attempt to stuff him into a coffin (that they never actually bury, only burying the body). They get foiled when one of their “burials” is in a crypt and they have to lose their 13 year old coffin.

Joyce Jameson is splendid as Price’s suffering, and sweet, and enviably endowed wife. She does a lot of grossly wacky singing, the volume of which scared my cockatoo (not easy to do with noise!) and her character is the type of person who likes to include French in her exclamations just for the affect. And Boris Karloff, already looking like he’s a hundred years old, plays her dad a preacher the fellows are also associated with in their business.

Unfortunately, I’ve never quite been a fan of the rubber-faced and over-wrought comic styles of the sort these films so often employ. Close-ups of comically terrified or sped up film jokes are generally reserved for little kiddos who would not be much amused by the premise of this oddly creaky film, despite many appearances of the starring cat. Joe Brown as rubber-faced as Ernest from 80s films, rounds out the silliness with a few of his own popular clowning faces. He’ll always be remembered from the It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World film from this same era. The ending isn’t exactly predictable but it certainly owes much to the comic film of the period which favored piling the malarkey up in thick heaps (not unlike Shakespeare’s dramas honestly–hard not to think of when Rathbone recited so much of it!). I feel like this is the sort of film I’d have stayed up late watching as a kid hoping for something sexy to happen. The film is sexless.

Free on Prime . . . This sort of Victorian era dark comedy seems to be in a bit of a revival of sorts of late in the Penny Dreadful variety, though less overtly comically. These sorts of things have been better done by the very busy Simon Pegg as a terrified shut-in and also in Phineas and Ferb.

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