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The Comedy Of Terrors

The Comedy of Terrors was made in 1963 and released in 1964, starring some real heavyweights of the horror and thriller genres; Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, and Basil Rathbone. The thing is, it's not a horror movie or a thriller. Just as the title suggest, it is a comedy. Price stars as Waldo Trumbull, a drunk who runs a funeral parlor he inherited from his father-in-law, played by Karloff. Peter Lorre plays his not altogether enthusiastic partner. They run the business by cutting as many corners as possible, like reusing the same coffin over and over. (They dump the body into it's open grave when no one is looking and cart the coffin off to be used for the next customer.)

Trumbull is unhappy with his life, and with his wife. Amaryllis is played by Joyce Jameson, and is a thwarted singer. She is mainly thwarted by the fact that she sings like a cat who has had it's tail stepped on. She and Trumbull live with her father. Peter Lorre's Mr. Gillie is in love with Amaryillis (she may not be able to carry a tune, but is is quite pleasant to look at, and he doesn't seem to mind her singing). On top of his other problems, Trumbull hasn't paid his rent in a year. His landlord, played by Rathbone, is understandably upset by this. He gives Trumbull an eviction notice if the rent isn't paid in 24 hours.
Trumbull enlists Gillie in a plan to drum up some business, a plan it seems they have enacted before. Trumbull plans on murdering an old man, then being on hand to make the funeral arrangements. Gillie isn't entirely on board with this plan, but is coerced due to being a felon on the run. Their first foray (in the film) doesn't go according to plan, and Trumbull receives notice that the matter of his back rent has been turned over to the landlord's attorney. This is when Trumbull decides to kill two birds (as the expression goes) with one stone. He will kill his landlord, thus getting the money for burying him and getting out of the legal troubles for the back rent. Unfortunately the landlord is not the most compliant of victims, refusing to actually be dead whenever they believe him to be so.
Vincent Price is absolutely fantastic in this movie. He is mean and snarky, and you can even believe that he would resent being married to a shapely young woman like Joyce Jameson. He is constantly trying to poison her father, berates Gillie at every given opportunity, and wastes all their money on drinking. You can tell Price had a lot of fun playing this character. Lorre seems custom made for his part as well. His Mr. Gillie is the unwilling sidekick who does his best to do what Trumbull needs of him out of loyalty to Amaryllis, but is always done in by his own ineptitude. He is not really a villain at all, but just a poor schmuck trying to make the best of a bad situation and hoping to someday win the heart of Amaryllis.
Karloff isn't given much to do for most of the movie, but is great in what he has to work with. He is much funnier than I thought he would be, and his one big moment (the eulogy of the old man Trumbull murders) is hysterical and shows what a great actor Karloff really is regardless of the genre. Basil Rathbone eats the scenery like there is no tomorrow. He is perfect for the Shakespeare quoting, imperious landlord. There is not a bad performance in the whole movie, even the smaller roles are performed wonderfully. There was some concern about this when Amaryllis' cat was given a credit at the beginning of the movie. (The cat was played by a feline named Rhubarb if you are curious.)
Released by the same company that did Price's Edgar Allen Poe movies, it looks fantastic. Amazingly with that much talent packed into one movie, no one gets overshadowed too terribly. The jokes are a bit corny at times (remember it was made in the sixties) but are still pretty funny. In the end everyone gets what's coming to them, and while you can see the final gag coming from a mile away it still brings a chuckle. If there is one flaw in the movie, it's that Karloff should have had more to do. But that doesn't detract from an otherwise excellent movie.


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