A Movie A Day: Quint on THE BUSY BODY (1967)
You guys are going to learn class or I’m gonna kick your teeth in!
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
We follow the great Robert Ryan over from yesterday’s Kennedy Assassination Conspiracy flick EXECUTIVE ACTION to a ‘60s Technicolor comedy starring Sid Caeser and directed by gimmick-master William Castle.
I won’t say this movie sucks, but it’s kind of a fascinating watch a comedy with so many funny people in it fail so completely, 98% of the jokes completely missing the mark.
Basically we follow a likable, clutzy Jerry Lewis character, but played by Sid Caeser, who just got an unlikely promotion to the board of a corporation run by Robert Ryan. The impression is that he was Ryan’s assistant or go-fer and is suddenly brought into the inner-circle.
One of the first orders of business is to join Ryan on a dinner with one of the other board members who just got back from some business travel.
Oh, and did I mention this business was a front for the mafia? Maybe I didn’t mention it because I went through half the movie before they decided to let the audience in on why exactly Sid Caeser is surrounded by craziness.
Long story short, this board member dies when his grill explodes and Caeser is put in charge of some of the funeral arrangements, including picking a suit for him.
Caeser picks a blue suit and instructs the dead man’s wife to deliver it to the mortician. At the funeral, the suit comes up in conversation and Robert Ryan pulls Caeser aside telling him that suit had a million dollars sewn into the lining. That was the board member’s traveling suit, with the evil mafia money hidden away in the lining.
Now it’s up to Caeser to dig up the body in the dead of night and he does only to find the coffin empty. This starts a madcap mystery-comedy as Caeser searches for the body, eventually trying to evade the police as well as the mafia while running into a cavalcade of whacky characters.
These crazy characters include Anne Baxter as a Mrs. Robinson-like widower who seduces Caeser in an incredibly long 10 minute scene that is painfully unfunny, Dom DeLuise as the fired funeral home hairdresser and Richard Pryor in his first screenrole playing the straight-man police officer investigating the deaths that seem to follow Caeser as he searches for the suit.
Dom DeLuise is actually one of the best parts about the movie, but I’ve always had a soft spot for DeLuise in film. I know there’s a lot of rabid hatred for the man for some reason, but I think he’s fucking hilarious. I love his timing and his voice instantly cracks me up and he’s one of the only things worth watching in this movie.
If Richard Pryor was given any other role in the movie he would have been a stand-out, too. As it is we only get one scene that hints at what a great comic performer he will be in the following years, a scene with Caeser’s protective mother who he’s interrogating as she’s cooking. He’ll be asking her serious questions and be interrupted with a spoonful of whatever the fuck she’s cooking to taste. He stops mid-sentence and tastes, almost reluctantly, then continues on after he swallows while grabbing the salt and sprinkling it over the pot.
He’s very comfortable in front of the camera, but his character just isn’t designed for his particular talents. It is really bizarre seeing him so young, though.
Caeser tries his best, but he is either out of sync with the material or the material is out of sync with his own timing… or the material just isn’t funny itself. He’s no Peter Sellers in this movie, that’s for sure.
And that leads me to THE PINK PANTHER. This is obviously William Castle trying to be Blake Edwards, telling a madcap mystery comedy with a ton of crazy characters, complete with a bumbling, but successful leading character and a short-tempered boss.
But it also feels like they’re trying to rip-off the Jerry Lewis formula, too, and the mash-up movie is just a mess of jokes that don’t work.
I suspect the original source material, a novel by mystery novelist megastar Donald E. Westlake, holds up much better. I haven’t read it, so I can’t say for sure, but I suspect the failure of the movie is a lot more in William Castle and screenwriter Ben Starr’s court.
Final Thoughts: A fascinating cast fails to make this movie even hit and miss. It is almost entertaining just in watching so many talented people missing the mark scene after scene. Of the cast, Robert Ryan, who is in a much more serious movie, and Dom DeLuise come out the best. DeLuise gets the comedy and Ryan’s personality is just right for the lead Mafioso. It’s an interesting and uncharacteristic early role for Pryor, but it’s in no way a memorable one. There’s a reason this film has entered obscurity. It just doesn’t work.
Here’s what we have lined up for the next week:
Thursday, November 6th: IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (1963)
Friday, November 7th: LIBELED LADY (1936)
Saturday, November 8th: UP THE RIVER (1930)
Sunday, November 9th: DOCTOR BULL (1933)
Monday, November 10th: JUDGE PRIEST (1930)
Tuesday, November 11th: TEN LITTLE INDIANS (1965)
Wednesday, November 12th: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974)
Lotsa Agatha Christie coming up. It looks like a week of Mysteries and Comedies for us! See you tomorrow for IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD!
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies
November 1st: Black Widow
November 2nd: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
November 3rd: Flying Tigers
November 4th: Executive Action
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Nov. 6, 2008, 6:29 a.m. CST
Keep it up.
Nov. 6, 2008, 6:36 a.m. CST
Glad it faded to obscurity. Next one is going to be a great flick, btw...
Nov. 6, 2008, 8:28 a.m. CST
by Drunken Rage
Not sure how you're choosing what to watch, but it's fun to be exposed to stuff I haven't seen and probably won't.
Nov. 6, 2008, 8:31 a.m. CST
...but I have seen THE SPIRIT IS WILLING, the other Caesar/Castle movie from '67. It's not on DVD (I caught it on YouTube last year in what must've been a third-generation dub), but it's just as well: I don't know if Ben Starr knew or cared that he was writing for Sid Caesar, but there isn't a single funny thing that comes out of Caesar's mouth in that movie. <br><br> If you care, SPIRIT is about a family (Caesar, wife Vera Miles and son Barry Gordon) who rent a summer home haunted by ghosts. No one believes Gordon when the ghosts cause mischief. Leonard Maltin wasn't far off when he said that 'some good comedy performers are thrown away', though John McGiver (WHO'S MINDING THE STORE, MIDNIGHT COWBOY) and Mary Wickes are very funny. <br><br> Terrific Vic Mizzy score, too. He did the music for BUSY BODY. The CD soundtrack on Percepto Records (which combines the two scores) is worth getting.
Nov. 6, 2008, 8:41 a.m. CST
Loved him in THE END with Burt Reynolds. Can't wait for your take on ..Mad World. Love that film. A bit too long, but great.
Nov. 6, 2008, 8:48 a.m. CST
Did anyone notice the above poster art for "The Busy Body" is by Frank Frazetta (of Conan/Tarzan/etc. fame)?
Nov. 6, 2008, 8:57 a.m. CST
Stepin Fetchit makes his first AMAD appearance. Quint, do some research on the actor *after* you see the film. It's a very interesting story.
Nov. 6, 2008, 10:22 a.m. CST
DeLuise is a howl in that movie. <br><br> "That man's nuts! Grab 'im!" is one of my all-time favorite movie lines.
Nov. 6, 2008, 10:34 a.m. CST
Thought he was great in lots of other stuff too. A robust personality. Always put a smile on my face. Also thought Sally Field was at her hottest in The End. I so wish she would've gone topless in some 70's film. Oh well... too late for that.
Nov. 6, 2008, 10:36 a.m. CST
William Castle comedy bronze He did a bit better with Tom Poston in “Zotz” (somewhere in the attic I think I still have the plastic ‘bronze’ magic coin). Of course I haven’t watched either movie in a couple of decades. My impression has always been that Castle’s real interest and talent was as a showman not a writer-director-producer. The content and quality of his movies may be debatable but the man knew how to promote the hell out of a gimmick. I witnessed first hand the effect of wired theater seats for the release of “The Tingler” Along with the film reels the theater received a ‘promotion’ package which included a few wired ‘buzzers’ (a variation of the classic hand buzzer gag not a direct electrical shock) that could be hidden in selected seats. When the titled creature appeared on screen a theater employee would hit the button, bam, guaranteed scream and a jump. I wonder how many designers of the 3-D attractions at modern theme parks were inspired by Castle. At the time of the “The Tingler” release I had a buddy that was one of the ushers at the local theater, so I knew where to look and more importantly where not to sit. The only time I have seen a similar audience reaction was the during the ‘body in the sunken boat’ sequence in “Jaws”. Only without the enhanced seating effects. For a great tribute to William Castle watch Joe Dante’s “Matinee”, The monologue about why people gather in a movie theater, instead of staying home and watching TV, is a classic.
Nov. 6, 2008, 10:56 a.m. CST
Quint -- this isn't a great movie, but it's got that 60's Euro vibe to it that I love, and even though this particular Christie story's been done to death (pardon the pun), I rank it up there as one of the better versions. But the real reason to watch this movie...? (no, not Fabian), is the incredibly sexxxy, ultra yummy Ms. Daliah Lavi! She is like a B-movie Sophia Loren, man. Fucking smoking hot. She's cute in this, but if you wanna see her at her most smoldering, check out "Whip and the Body" featuring Lavi and co-starring the one and only Mr. Christopher Lee. Awesome, atmospheric gothic ghost story, with an S&M twist. I think Bava directed this one. Anyway, Quint, I am really diggin' this column -- keep up the great work!
Nov. 6, 2008, 11:21 a.m. CST
What a shame that Dick Shawn didn't have a bigger film career. His work in this and The Producers is great. He did a LOT of tv in his later years.
Nov. 6, 2008, 1:57 p.m. CST
His introduction, and polling the audience in the final reel, is a sort of interactive experience that will never--unfortunately--be reprised (God, THE TINGLER's gimmick--buzzing seats--would prompt lawsuits if the same stunt were repeated today). Castle was a lovable rogue and ham. We still miss him. He was a better showman than director, turning a handsome profit on cost-constrictive B-movies. And Castle, not HOUSE OF WAX, indelibly linked Vincent Price to horror movies. THE BUSY BODY should at least be remembered for Godfrey Cambridge's funny performance (paired with Marty Ingels!)--and the Frazetta renderings that graced the posters. About MAD, MAD WORLD: the restored version??
Nov. 6, 2008, 2:33 p.m. CST
lets not forget he was one of the producers of Polanski's Rosemary's Baby.
Nov. 6, 2008, 6:16 p.m. CST
nor his cameo role (phone booth). I'll shamelessly repeat it: We still miss Mr. Castle.
Nov. 6, 2008, 6:45 p.m. CST
Does anyone know where I can locate the documentary, SPINE TINGLER: THE WILLIAM CASTLE STORY? Would be much obliged for any information.
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