The movie poster from 1944

One Body Too Many, is an approved old dark house film from 1944 staring Jack Haley, Jean Parker, Douglas Fowley, Blanch Yurka, and the count himself Bela Lugosi. Directed by Frank McDonald, written by Winston Miller (of A Private’s Affair and other light classics) and Maxwell Shane (of The Invisible Killer fame) both writers with a number of suspense, horror, mystery, and comedy titles under their belts penned this under-loved gem of a flick. Horror and comedy are the strangest of bedfellows for when done right it becomes the thing of legend; think Abbott and Costello, American Werewolf in London, Evil Dead II, Cabin in the Woods and many-many-more…(sorry my late night infomercial alter ego peered his Hyde-ian head out for a moment) but when done poorly it becomes obscure almost after viewing, I’d give you the name of one but that would undermine the point I’m attempting to make.      

History Lesson

I use the word, ‘approved’ when describing this film as it was made before the Jack Valenti ratings system swap of ’68. We’re talking Hays Code days there, kids. When a movie was held for review of approval by a board to determine whether or not it’s morally acceptable or vulgar beyond belief, ‘cus ‘member nuance didn’t exist before the sixties got swingin’. Though you may not be likely to find this on anyone’s top ten or labeled as ground breaking, other than coining the word of being a ‘drip’ as an insult for a needlessly fastidious person, it still exists in the public eye and is easily accessible. You don’t have to go hunting for archived footage in the back of that haunted abandoned video store or visit obscure streaming sites to find while a virus spirits away your bank info. I can’t recall the first time I saw it, or why, perhaps in my pirate days I was backtracking the filmography of Jack Haley or Bela Lugosi, or maybe it was in with those early-to-mid-2000’s collection of 50 horror films that were mainly filled with creature features or forgotten films with no plots, but in those lots-of-fifty did have a notable jewel or two a la William Castel or Ed Wood, but either way this one has always stuck with me.

Set Up

The plot is your classic Old Dark House set up, a stranger finds their way into a manner where they do not belong that may or may not be haunted, some times alone, sometimes with others, and due to the necessity of plot they are unable to leave for whatever reason. The formula is simple, and it can, on occasion, be executed quite well. This I also, personally feel, is the easiest to blend horror and comedy. It’s a two for one; a creepy setting and a fish out of water tale. The vulnerability and personality of the protagonist are the defining features of whether the film is intended to give chills or get laughs. Here’s where we meet Albert L. Tuttle played by Jack ‘The Tinman’ Haley, who is an insurance agent trying to sell a 200K life insurance policy to an eccentric millionaire, Cyrus J. Rutherford. Jack’s had the meeting scheduled for over a month. Well, Cyrus died, at his will reading the lawyer notes a stipulation that states he must be buried in a glass mausoleum where he can be overlooked by the stars for all eternity or else the ratios of who gets the most and who gets the least of his estate would be flipped. No one is supposed to know the distribution amounts until he is entombed to keep things fair, but some people have an inkling. Thus comes in our protagonist who is confused, frightened, and aroused (no not by the body, well… not Cyrus’s). Tuttle is persuaded to stay and guard the body by the deceased niece Carol, played by Jean Parker, and hilarity ensues.

The good

The movie establishes the characters well and quickly. Tuttle, in the first few minutes is shown to be a clever and determined individual by getting the account that no other insurance man in the business could, by appealing (or pandering) to the eccentrics interest in astrology. The family isn’t Knives Out levels of character depth, but you get to meet the rest of the ensemble and find out who Cyrus liked and who he didn’t. Cyrus’s testimonial preamble reads like something I would write, just roasting his family from beyond the grave. The acting is done well, no one goes against the motivation of their characters. The humour isn’t misplaced; it’s a situational comedy just a little macabre with a hint of a, ‘who done it’. Lugosi is not wasted, though I think it takes multiple viewings to see his possible poisoning subplot. The effects for it’s time; the angle and devil shoulder gag, some of the transitions, film distortion to simulate being under water, are all very good. The writing is quick, poking fun at over used tropes in the pulp genre that Tuttle seems to be in, or the showing of hypocrisy in pseudoscientists, an astrologer calling palm reading hokum was funny.

Bela Lugosi holding a tray with coffee

The bad

There’s nothing in this movie I can say I hated or didn’t like. This is far from a perfect movie, but that adds to the charm; the audio has some issues, what do you expect it’s from the 40’s. Though it is a quick watch, less than 80 minutes, the way in which some shots linger disrupt the pace and make it feel longer. I hesitate to call some of the gags cliché since it predates most of the famous movies that reused the jokes. A few scenes are a little too dark. The constant putting down of coffee, I don’t care if it keeps you up or you’re a drip, you take the damn cup and enjoy that delicious dark liquid energy.

The ugly- my opinion

It’s a quick watch, entertaining, with mood and humour. The writing and acting are good and it’s not too scary to put on if you’re a lightweight or have kids. Put it on your watchlist if you want a good lark. See Jack outside of the silver makeup. He’s far more reserved than the likes of his comedic contemporaries but I feel that uniqueness plays in his favour. Throw it in your rotation if you like House on Haunted Hill, Abbot and Costello, And Then There Were None, or just like classic movies it’s worth the view.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)