Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Terrible Comedy

The Comedy of Terrors isn't that terrible. It stars Vincent Price as a drunken undertaker, with Peter Lorre as his dimwitted and felonious assistant, Joyce Jameson as the wife he abuses and Boris Karloff as her senile father, who owns the funeral parlor.

Now, Price hasn't had a "customer" in a long while, and if he can't come up with some money, landlord Basil Rathbone will have him evicted. So Price and Lorre set out to make some corpses. Nothing works right until they get the idea of killing two ... of solving two problems at once, by killing Rathbone. Then things really start to go wrong.

This is more comedy than terror, the kind where the film speeds up for slapstick and there are slide whistles and a tympany "bow-oing!" to mark the gag. But the real fun is watching Priced drink, insult his wife and try to kill his father-in-law (among others). To see Lorre try to build a coffin so they won't have to keep re-using the only one they have. Sadly, Karloff spends most of his time drowsing over a teacup - his arthritis didn't allow him a more active part. But he does get to play a manic fiddle and deliver a vague eulogy.

Rathbone has a lovely role as the Shakespeare-quoting landlord who can never quite be killed. It must have been fun to get to play the ham so richly.

I have to say, however, my favorite character was Rhubard the cat, in his role as Cleopatra. This veteran of the classic cats-and-baseball movie Rhubarb adorns every scene in which he deigns to make an appearance.

Although this was directed by Jacques Tourneur, it is a long way from the subtle implied menace of Cat People. There isn't much menace and no subtlety. But at least a bit of fun.

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