The Comedy of Terrors
the comedy of terrors | jacques tourneur | richard matheson | vincent price | peter lorre | boris karloff | comedy | united states | joyce jameson | joe e. brown | beverly powers | basil rathbone | alan dewitt | buddy mason | douglas williams | linda rogers | elsie lee
Film: The Comedy of Terrors
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Writer: Richard Matheson and Elsie Lee
Starring: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff
This was a film I got turned on to when working my way through the Horror Show Guide, an encyclopedia of horror films. I had never heard of this one, but I was intrigued to see the cast this film was boasting. It has the likes of Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone.
Synopsis: dishonest undertaker Waldo Trumbull (Price) and his sidekick Felix Gillie (Lorre) are creating their own customers when they cannot find willing ones.
We start at a funeral. As everyone leaves, we see that Waldo and Felix are the two undertakers who are running it. The film then gets a bit old timey and slapstick as it speeds up. They dump the body into the grave, cover it up and then load the casket back into the carriage they have. I will admit this was a bit jarring, but I see the reason for this to get through the scene. It is also setting the tone that this is a comedy.
Waldo took control of this business by marrying the daughter of the previous owner. She is Amaryllis (Joyce Jameson) and her father is Amos Hinchley (Karloff). He is out of it and gets on the nerves of Waldo, who keeps threatening to poison him. Amaryllis is a former opera singer who gave it up and married Waldo. The problem though is that he is a drunk and business is struggling. He is also quite rude to his wife who he despises. She’s also not great at singing either.
He goes to leave and he has a run in with the man who owns the building, John F. Black (Rathbone). He tells Waldo that he doesn’t pay the back rent by the following day, they’re going to be evicted. The problem is that they can’t find any customers, so Waldo comes up with an idea. He decides to start to find clients, forcing Felix to help. Waldo uses blackmail since his partner has a criminal record. This plan isn’t as easy as they think as the first one doesn’t go as planned. It puts them farther in the whole. That is when they set their sights on Mr. Black, he has an interesting condition to complicate matters.
That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. As I was looking into this film, I was excited when I saw the cast that it had. Bringing in the greats like Price, Lorre and Karloff was impressive. I will get into their performances, but that is a draw on if you’re fans of them. What is interesting though, this film comes out well after Karloff was working the likes of Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. in the classic Universal Monster era. It is fun though to see a film that could get these horror greats together.
This has an interesting story as well. I don’t think it is the most original, but for the time it could be. I’ve always thought about if you were an undertaker in a small town, what you would do to stay in business? Amaryllis blames Waldo’s drinking as to why it is struggling. I could see that since that is an unneeded cost. They cut corners, which is something that you could see someone still doing even today in any business. Even with that though, their business is based on people dying. If they don’t you don’t have any, there is no income coming in.
I will say though, that a good bit of comedy didn’t work for me. There is a running gag of Felix’s accent and not being able to say Waldo’s last name correctly. It made me chuckle after the first couple of times. His name is Trumbull, but it comes out as tremble. Some of the slapstick made me chuckle and there is smart comedy that I was onboard with. They did have another running gag where Amaryllis sings and it breaks things. That I didn’t like it because her voice is annoying. Seeing the things that she broke was fine though or even killing others like flowers.
Moving to the pacing which I thought it moves along well. The film has a low running time, so that is probably a big part of it. It doesn’t waste any time either, which helps as well. The ending was a bit over the top, but being this is a comedy, it works. I will say that I never got bored and I was interested in seeing how this played out as well.
Next to the acting, which if you couldn’t already tell, I thought it was great. Price is such a villain in this film and I loved it. He is so mean to Felix, Amaryllis and Amos, but it is hard to hate him. He just embodies the role. Lorre is also solid as the henchman. He doesn’t want to keep committing crimes, but he is blackmailed into it. He also truly loves Amaryllis, which makes him a sweet character as well. Karloff plays an old man who seems to have dementia. He is crazy and it is funny. He has a running joke where he keeps thinking Amaryllis wants the sugar and that Waldo’s poison is his medicine. What he does at the end of the film is fitting for the threats made throughout. Jameson is attractive, but quite annoying. I think it is fitting for the film though. They really show off her breasts, which I wasn’t upset about. We don’t see them, but the corset accentuates. Rathbone was quite interesting. He is odd and mean, but I can’t blame him. He is trying to punish Waldo, which is fitting. He also deserves it. The rest of the cast rounded out the film for what was needed.
To the effects, there weren’t really a lot of them, but they also weren’t needed. We do get things moving while Amaryllis is singing. The rest of the effects went back to the slapstick comedy, which of course are just done practically. The film was shot well also. They don’t do a lot with cinematography, but they also don’t do anything to hurt it.
The final thing to cover would be the soundtrack. It was fitting for what they needed. I did point out earlier that Amaryllis does opera singing. It got annoying at times, which I think was part of the gag. She was learning to sing and dropped out, so it can be shrill. She does have talent so I commend her there. The rest as I said was solid for the scenes. The other issue I had was some of the ‘Bennie Hill’ type music we get. It does fit the scenes it is used, but it didn’t work for me.
In conclusion, we have an interesting concept for something that I’ve questioned in the past. The acting is impressive to have assembled a cast like this and they all play such unique, solid characters. The pacing is also good and the ending is fitting for what we build to. Not all the comedy worked for me, but some did make me laugh. There wasn’t a lot in the way of effects and it didn’t need them. Part of the soundtrack did get annoying to me as well, but it all fit what they needed. I had a good time with this one. I think this film is above average and would recommend giving it a viewing if this sounds interesting. I will warn you though that it is from the 60’s, so if that’s an issue, avoid this then.
My Rating: 7 out of 10