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Ominous October: One Body Too Many (1944)

It's October and you know what that means, spooky-themed movies!

RODNEY BOWCOCK: Jack Haley stars as Albert Tuttle, insurance salesman. He has an appointment with Cyrus J Rutherford, an eccentric millionaire about a large insurance policy. The only problem is that Rutherford has died before the policy could be signed. Well, that’s not the only problem. Additionally, the mansion that Tuttle has visited is full of nefarious relatives, all wanting a chunk of the will and nobody can leave the mansion. Sound familiar? Well, it should.

SAMANTHA GLASSER: You know this story; it has been told many times before. I expected that this rendition would be worth my time because it promised comedy in combination with mystery. However, the film relies too heavily on cliches to delightfully surprise me with creativity in either genre. The lights go out, it is a dark and stormy night, bodies fall out of closets and there are the inevitable schemers working behind the scenes. To make the experience worse, the print on Youtube is such low quality that the many scenes of characters running through dark corridors are almost impossible to see.

RB: I watched the film on Amazon Prime in what was, to me anyway, a perfectly acceptable copy. Nobody is clamoring to restore Pine-Thomas programmers, so I thought this was pretty okay. It was a somewhat worn 16mm transfer, but we’ve all suffered through those countless times.

SG: Jack Haley is best known for playing the Tin Man. His beautiful expressive eyes are instantly recognizable. I saw him at Capitolfest this year in Follow Thru, and he was hysterically funny so I hoped for a similarly memorable performance in this movie, and was unfortunately disappointed.

RB: Haley is completely and totally forgettable here. This was part of a multi-picture deal that he had signed with Pine-Thomas (how did he go from Wizard of Oz to Pine-Thomas in just a few years?) for $20,000 a film. The plan was to costar him in musicals with Mary Beth Hughes, but this clearly isn’t a musical, so somehow that plan went awry. He followed this film with another scare comedy, Scared Stiff, which I inexplicably want to see. Primarily because of the supporting case that includes Barton MacLane, Veda Ann Borg, Ann Savage and George E Stone. I’m a simple man with simple pleasures.

SG: Bela Lugosi, however, is never a disappointment. He seems to capture the comedic intent better than anyone; who would have thought?

RB: Bela seems to be the only one who is in on the joke, essentially playing Bela Lugosi. He is a lot of fun here though and provided pretty much the only smiles that I had while watching the film.

Pretend to be scared? What do you think I'm shaking from, enthusiasm?

SG: Showmen's Trade Review's Ed Raiden was on site for part of the shooting and said he "was amazed at the excitement and energy Jack Haley whipped up doing the scene several times. Once he almost had it finished when Jean Parker, who plays the lead with him, couldn't hold her laughter any longer and broke out. That broke up the whole company. First Frank McDonald, the director, and then Bill Pine, the producer, begged them all to concentrate and get the scene straight."

RB: I wish some of those laughs had made their way to the screen.

SG: McDonald also helmed a previous Picture Show blog outing Gambler's Choice. Motion Picture Daily's reviewer Tom Loy said the director, "knew when to alternate laughs and chills. Everyone seems to have worked hard, and the effort should click... Moreover, script writers Winston Miller and Maxwell Shane have fashioned their staple goods with some unusually elaborate and telling touches."

RB: For such a minor picture, the Paramount promotion machine was working overtime planting tidbits in newspapers. Here is one that I came across a few times:

“Life of a film comedian is seldom monotonous. In one 10-hour day during filming of One Body Too Many, Jack Haley (1) Ran up and down a hallway wearing only a Turkish towel; (2) was hit over the head with a revolver butt; (3) fell through a trap door; (4) jumped off a 10-foot ladder (5) was dunked in a fish pond and (6) swallowed a goldfish. Last trick was the easiest. The fish was made of gelatin."

SG: Harland Rankin of the Plaza Theatre in Tilbury, Ontario, Canada called the movie, "Not so hot. Business off." The Photoplay reviewer Sarah Hamilton confused readers with this puzzle, "Here is a mystery with a laugh which is something like goose pimples with cranberry dressing, if you know what we mean." I sure don't.

Harrison's Reports was more direct: "It is a ridiculous conglomeration of comedy, romance and murder-mystery melodrama, which may get by with undiscriminating audiences; others will certainly be bored... Despite reasonably fair performances, the actors are handicapped by the mediocre material; for that reason they fail to make their respective roles impressive."

RB: Nobody really thought much of this movie from what I can tell, and yet, it stayed in circulation until at least 1947 (which wasn’t too terribly rare during that time), before hitting the late shows on TV. The earliest Ohio TV date I can find is a Cincinnati run on July 6th, 1957, although I’d have been more likely to watch Lloyd Nolan in Green Grass of Wyoming on channel 12 at the same time. It last ran in 2020 on Akron’s PBS affiliate. Pretty long life for a pretty lousy film.

SG: The film ran on the second half of a double bill with Youth Runs Wild.

RB: True. Also Three Caballeros, Thirty Seconds over Tokyo and dozens of other better movies.

SG: My expectations were middle-of-the-road for this movie, which appeared to be a twist on a cliche old dark house thriller. They were not met. Two stars.

RB: As a generic old dark house mystery, this is competent enough to get by. As a comedy, this is pretty anemic, especially when compared to Hold That Ghost and other similar films that were released during the war. Two stars indeed. And that may be a little generous. There’s a reason why Pine-Thomas horror films aren’t revered today.

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Michael Schlesinger
Michael Schlesinger
13 de out. de 2023

Serves them right for not including a gorilla. That would have made it worthwhile!


This is one of those movies I keep planning on watching someday… but something else comes up to change my mind. My favorite Haley film is the 1941‘s NAVY BLUES with Jack Haley ,Jack Oakie, Jack Carson and Jack-ie Gleason

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