Though the DVD release implies the star of One Body Too Many (1944) is Bela Lugosi, he's mainly a background character, quite fun to see, but the star is the Tin Man of Oz, Jack Haley, with the second lead Jean Parker as his love interest.
This "Old Dark House" horror comedy is a rare bird in that it genuinely is funny. Haley was a brilliant comic performer & he makes his character, half coward, half hero, a believable fellow. The best humorous use is made of genuinely spooky sets. Haley's self-effacing wisecracking works. Parker's belief that this skittish life insurance salesman is her knight in shining armor is both funny & credible.
The story is perhaps beside the point but gives context for the gags. A wealthy curmudgeon has died & left a will that will not be read until the following morning, & all the heirs must remain in the house that night. All they know is that one person will get a huge portion of the estate, & another person will get less than $2 to cover cab fare home, with the rest divided according to merit.
But if certain rules are disobeyed during the night, the terms of the will shall be reversed. This means that anyone who becomes convinced they're only going to get a couple dollars will attempt, during the night, to screw up the will's instructions.
Into this household mostly of greed & potential menace comes the life insurance salesman who didn't know the old man was dead & had intended to sell him a quarter-million dollar policy. He's the only one without personal investment in the situation, now that selling the policy is out of the question. The one family member who is obviously a decent individual has already had her life threatened, & she begs the salesman to remain.
The plot has few if any twists or surprises but it is rich in incident & scene for scene extremely amusing, chiefly because of Haley's excellence. Though Bela is secondary as the butler, he is given an ongoing gag to act out, a very good one, as he spends the whole movie trying to convince everyone to have some coffee which might well have rat poison in it, but each person in turn has a lame excuse for not wanting any. The pay-off for that particular shaggy dog of a jest is good for at least a broad smile.
This comes off as a parody of the silent film classic The Cat & the Canary (1927; or its 1939 sound remake). Just about every element originally intended to be spooky is lampooned here. Frankly I rarely enjoy old horror comedies as they're not as a rule at all funny, & I prefer mysteries & horrors to be brooding & eerie. But this comedy is just awfully good of kind.
The Ghost Walks (1934) is yet another Old Dark House/Cat & the Canary send-up with kidnapping, fake ghost, hoax murder, lurking madman who has escaped from the nearby nuthouse, secret rooms & passages behind walls...
On "a dark & stormy night" as the script even manages to tell us, a car gets stuck in the mud & three gents seek refuge in a weird mansion.
Therein, before the tale is over, we will have been treated to an intentionally silly FX scene when a glowy ghostly head appears when the lights go out.
It's the second anniversary of an unsolved murder in that very house. Beatrice (Eve Southern) is a psychic, believing she can communicate with the dead, though she's more probably delusional.
[SPOILER ALERT] Soon after it is revealed that everyone in the house is putting on a play for a producer, a "real" murder unexpectedly occurs. The players go off-script, but the stage producer (Richard Carle) & his sissy valet/servant/boyfriend (Johnny Arthur) are by now convinced it was all a gag, now that it no longer is one. [END SPOILER ALERT]
The limited sets give it the feeling of a Victorian parlor play & the shrill acting increases the sense of the amateur. It's got lots of one-liners & is occasionally successfully funny, surprisingly entertaining on the level of utter foolishness.
It could well be included in film studies of homosexuality in early cinema, or in any overview of "Old Dark House" films, or simply on a double bill with One Body Too Many as examples of old mystery comedies. It has recently been re-issued (but alas not remastered or restored) on a "double feature" dvd with a similar old-dark-house mystery, A Waking Nightmare (1942).
In One Frightened Night (1935) wealthy geezer Jasper Whyte (Charley Grapewin) gets his heirs together on yet another dark & stormy night. He wants to give everyone a million dollars each before the inheritance tax laws change at midnight. Even the maid Elvira (Rafaela Ottiano) is to get a million. But, says Jasper, if he could've found his long-lost granddaughter, she'd've gotten it all.
Just about then there's a knock at the door &, surprise-surprise, it's the geezer's granddaughter Doris (Evalyn Knapp). What a nice pretty girl she is. So now everyone who was so happy with the geezer is suddenly seriously peeved.
But is she really Doris? Heaping coincidences one atop another, a second Doris (Mary Carlisle) comes a-knockin', not having known anything about the heir thingy but just by happenstance deciding to visit her grampa for the first time in her whole life.
She's a vaudeville performer travelling with her stage partner The Great Luvall (Wallace Ford), "the world's greatest magician," but not really such a good one.
Of the two Dorises, this second one seems most likely the flimflam artist just by right of being a footloose drifting entertainer. But she's such a brusk cutie even grampa would rather she be the real Doris.
In a locked room upstairs, the first Doris has been mysteriously poisoned. "And the person who killed her," observes Jasper, "is in this room."
Mysterious doings proceed through the night, including a weird masked figure vanishing into rafter rooms, & further attempted murders. It's ultimately just one more of those fun & emptyheaded variants on The Cat & the Canary with a stronger dose of farce.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl