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!
Published at: Nov. 6, 2008, 5:21 a.m. CST by quint
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!