Sunday, August 24, 2008

What becomes a Legend most?

Mark Evanier recently posted to his newsfromme blog a review of With Six You Get Eggroll (1968), a comedy romp starring Doris Day and Brian Keith and directed by the late, great Howard Morris. Evanier observes: “Howie did some wonderful things as a director—if you ever get the chance to see Who’s Minding the Mint?, don’t miss it…” Now, I may be stretching this coincidence a tad, but as it so happens I just finished watching a comedy similar to Mint (in fact, the two movies and The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming [1966] attempted to cash in on the It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World phenomenon of featuring big-name comedians in their casts), 1967’s The Busy Body.

Body, Mint, World and Russians were movies I watched quite frequently on television during my youth; of the three, however, I consider Mint to be the funniest (even more so than World, which has lot a bit of its luster despite its cult following). I had hoped that revisiting Body (it’s been a long while since I’ve seen it) would reveal a long lost comedic find but apart from its cast (clearly the main draw) the film is only sporadically funny, and suffers from the indignity of gathering this incredible gallery of players…and leaving them very little to work with.

Mob gopher George Norton (Sid Caesar) has just been promoted to “the board of directors” by his boss, Charley Barker (Robert Ryan)…but his climb up the corporate ladder is stalled when board member Archie Brody (Bill Dana) perishes in a freak outdoor barbecue grill incident. George, undeniably a snappy dresser (his mother [Kay Medford] always wanted him to be a haberdasher), is assigned the task of selecting a suit for the late Archie to be buried in—and after the funeral is over, George is asked to dig Archie up. It appears that in the lining of Brody’s suit was $1,000,000 in cash…but a check of his coffin reveals no Archie…no suit…and thus, no dinero. George is then put in charge of tracking down the missing corpse (leaving a trail of bodies along the way) lest he soon join his dear, departed friend six feet under courtesy of Ryan and the other board members.

With a screenplay by Ben Starr (from a Donald E. Westlake novel!), direction by B-movie showman/schlockmeister William Castle and a sprightly cast that includes Anne Baxter, Arlene Golonka, Richard Pryor (in his feature film debut) and more Borscht Belt comedians (Jan Murray, George Jessel, etc.) than you can shake a stick at, it’s discouraging that Body never reaches its full potential. There are some scattered yuks here and there (Caesar gets the lion’s share…but then it’s impossible for Sid not to be funny), and inspired contributions by Ben Blue (memorable as a truck dispatcher who keeps fainting and is revived by emptying a bottle of Coca-Cola on his face), Dom DeLuise and the “team” of Marty Ingels and Godfrey Cambridge (Cambridge just has to show up in a movie to guarantee it’ll be worth my time). However, when Charles McGraw gets more laughs than Pryor—you know the movie’s taken the wrong turn at Albuquerque. (In Pryor’s defense, he’s woefully miscast as an authority figure…a chief of detectives, no less.)

I don’t want to discourage anyone from seeing this film because, despite its shortcomings, it’s definitely worth a look-see (and besides, it’s miles-and-away better than Caesar-Castle’s follow-up collaboration, The Spirit is Willing). Body has been released on DVD by a company called Legend Films, and some of their eclectic product (leased to them via Paramount, and containing movies that the studio would never get around to releasing in a million years) is currently on sale (select titles, I should add) at Deep Rhubarb (1951), Money from Home (1953), Papa’s Delicate Condition (1963), Serial (1980) and Baby It’s You (1983). I would, however, be remiss if I didn’t mention that Legend has apparently fallen in with bad companions and insists on releasing some of its product (comedies featuring Abbott & Costello, Our Gang and the Three Stooges) in colorized form…which is a no-no in Uncle Ivan’s book. But life isn’t always black-and-white (even though I’d like it to be), and sometimes you have to wonder if a DVD copy of Phase IV (1974) or Mandingo (1975) is worth the sacrifice of a principle or two.

1 comment:

charlie said...

Nice blog about a pretty forgettable movie with one of the most eclectic casts ever. Charles McGraw appeared in The Busybody at time when he was in a downward spiral, personally and professionally and it shows.

Alan K. Rode