One Body Too Many – USA, 1944

‘Funniest killer-diller chiller!’

One Body Too Many is a 1944 American comedy mystery feature film directed by Frank McDonald from a screenplay written by Winston Miller and Maxwell Shane. The movie stars Jack Haley, Jean Parker and Bela Lugosi. It was distributed by Paramount.

Plot:

Timid insurance salesman Albert L. Tuttle (Jack Haley) visits eccentric millionaire Cyrus J. Rutherford, intent on selling him a $200,000 deal. Instead, he finds that Rutherford has recently died and his mansion is now full of relatives who are, according to the will, all bound to remain in the mansion until a glass-domed vault is constructed on the roof, to house the deceased millionaire who was an ardent follower of the stars.

Tuttle is mistaken for a private detective sent to guard the body, and once the confusion is cleared up and the real detective fails to show, he is convinced by Rutherford’s niece Carol Dunlap (Jean Parker) to remain and ensure that the body is not stolen. If the body should be buried any place other than the vault, the will states that recipients who would receive the largest request will receive the smallest, and vice versa.

One of the recipients plans to reverse the will in their favour, hide the body and kill anyone who gets in their way. Unfortunately for mild-mannered Tuttle, he is directly in the way of the killer, and the rest of the conniving family…

Reviews:

“Bela Lugosi plays, once again, the butler […] at least this time he gets to be in charge of the best running gag in the movie (it involves rat poison and coffee), and, as in The Gorilla, he gives the funniest performance in the movie.” Dave Sindelar, Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings

“The dialog is snappy, the acting is competent, but nothing is memorable. […] benefits from the appearance of Bela Lugosi in the small role of the butler. He has the best running gag, attempting to serve possibly poisoned coffee to people who just don’t want coffee. Lugosi’s comic abilities were rarely used and it’s nice to see him playing for laughs.” Foster on Film

” …it’s not really meant to be a mystery as such; the plot is a reason to put Tuttle in various comedic situations as he stumbles around and is repeatedly waylaid by ne’er-do-wells. There aren’t many big laughs, but the film is reasonably amusing throughout. There’s a gentle mockery of mystery and suspense films…” Morgan on Media

” …interesting for vintage horror fans is the bit where Tuttle poses as the body in the coffin, which has a glass window in the lid, which comes across as a spoof of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr. Otherwise, One Body Too Many is fairly routine stuff, perfectly diverting for an hour and a quarter, but unlikely to stick in the mind.” Graeme Clark, The Spinning Image

” …if the movie had garnered a different leading man who was a little stronger in the laughs department than Haley, it might have ended up being a little better. As it is, Haley was decent as the star of the picture and considering the performances of Lugosi and Parker, they actually made the man better as playing off of them served to bolster his actions.” The Telltale Mind

“If you’re a Lugosi fan like me, you’ll be able to suck up most of the rampant clichés (the relatives get stranded because the bridge gets washed out in the storm, the murderer uses secret passageways to get around the house, dead bodies end up in peculiar places, etc.) and tolerate the unfunny comic relief (Haley is particularly grating)…” Mitch Lovell, The Video Vacuum

Cast and characters:

    • Jack Haley … Albert L. Tuttle
    • Jean Parker … Carol Dunlap – Dead Man’s Eyes; Bluebeard; The Ghost Goes West
    • Bela Lugosi … Merkil
    • Blanche Yurka … Matthews
    • Lyle Talbot … Jim Davis
    • Douglas Fowley … Henry Rutherford
    • Fay Helm … Estelle Hopkins
    • Bernard Nedell … Attorney Morton Gellman
    • Lucien Littlefield … Kenneth Hopkins
    • Dorothy Granger … Mona Rutherford
    • Maxine Fife … Margaret Hopkins
    • William Edmunds … Professor Hilton (uncredited)
    • Lyle Latell … Manager of Atlas Detective Agency (uncredited)
    • Ralph Peters … Insurance Agent (uncredited)
    • Bob Reeves … (uncredited)

Trivia:

  • The producers originally wanted Boris Karloff for the butler role.
  • Frank McDonald signed to direct in December 1943, when it was known as Too Many Bodies

Public domain:

One Body Too Many is available to download from the Internet Archive

Image credits: The Telltale Mind (visit site for more images)

Related:

More Bela Lugosi

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