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|Index||11 reviews in total|
This is definitely not the greatest film comedy, but it has it's
The plot has to do with mob boss Ryan's discovery of a large scale theft of cash that seemed about to be uncovered by his mob's bookkeeper, Bill Dana. Dana is killed in front of Ryan and his right hand gopher Sid Caesar while barbecuing (somebody tampered with the oil used on the barbecue grill). When the discovery is made, Ryan zeroes in on Caesar as the thief, and probable murderer of Dana. Caesar spends the film trying to 1) keep out of the hands of Ryan and his goons (Godfrey Cambridge and Marty Ingalls), 2) keep out of the hands of the police (Richard Pryor), 3) keep his meddlesome mother out of his hair (Kay Medford), 4) solve the mystery of the death of Dana and his disappearing corpse, 5) find out who, exactly, is trying to frame him, and 6) looking after Dana's newly made widow (Arlene Golonka) who is looking very appealing to Caesar.
Actually the plot fits pretty well, but it is a so-so plot for all that. I think by the time the film is half-way through you will realize who the framer is. But it is the little shticks by borscht belt comics, Caesar, Jan Murray, Cambridge (with Ingalls), Dana (briefly), and with long time comedian Ben Blue and recent arrivals Richard Pryor and Dom DeLuis, that should hold one's attention. Blue is the perennial nervous nelly, a witness against Caesar who is confronted by him (not threatened by him, mind you, but confronted) and keeps collapsing in fear of being tortured. As mentioned in another comment on this thread, a woman tries to vamp a dummy that Caesar has left at a bus stop. You have to understand that Caesar introduced her to the dummy as his friend , Matthias Kreplach, who was rich. The woman leaves in a huff when Matthias just won't respond to her chatter - he just sits there like a dummy.
I may add that while that scene is good, my favorite moment is the last scene involving Jan Murray and Anne Baxter as a larcenous husband and wife. He gets a final rise out of her that George Sanders did not achieve in ALL ABOUT EVE.
Looks like I'm the only one here who really enjoys The Busy Body, a movie I've watched many times and love. Sid Caesar is really funny, prissy and nitpicky as an obsessive-compulsive, overly fastidious clothes horse (a parody of a GQ/Esquire reader) who is a deliveryman for the mob (like the boss's lunch). Sid's decision to play it straight, as opposed to a scaredy-cat type like Don Knotts, works. Robert Ryan's great, a tough as nails, quick igniting organized crime boss, a combination of Marine drill sergeant and hood. The interaction between these two makes BB the fun pic it is. I wish there had been more of it. The supporting cast is a true who's who of comedic geniuses, from Bill Dana and Dom DeLuise to Godfrey Cambridge and Marty Engels. An added bonus is a young Arlene Golonka in the prime of her stacked sexiness and sweet, ditzy personality. The Vic Mizzy soundtrack is a plus.
This comedy has all the elements of the type of comedies Don Knotts and Jerry Lewis were performing in during the 1960's. An ordinary man gets involved with murder (I forgot to mention Dick Van Dyke). The comedy was tailored around the talents of Ben Blue and Caesar, with the other comics filling time. It's a pleasant comedy, but don't go out of your way.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When the best thing you can say about a movie is that you didn't hate it that seems to be damning it with faint praise but really this film is so contrived it's hard to say anything else. First the good, Robert Ryan provides his usual touch of class to the proceedings and Anne Baxter, looking stunning with skyscraper hair, is wonderfully droll. Kay Medford is amusing as the overbearing mother even if her part is silly and Arlene Golonka is sweet and kooky. The main story is lame, and the use of obvious dummies for the bodies is just stupid. The real weak link is the star. Sid Caesar proves he was not leading man material with a performance so arch as to be painful to watch. Okay to pass the time with once or if you are a completist for either Ryan or Baxter films but do not go out of your way.
Since Sid Caesar died a few days ago, I decided to watch one of his movies. "The Busy Body" makes no pretense about being silly. The characters are pretty much what we expect: Caesar is the nervous everyman mixed up in a murder case, Robert Ryan is the slimy exec, Arlene Golonka is the cleavage-flaunting blonde bombshell, and Kay Medford is the overprotective mother. The movie features the first appearance of Richard Pryor but he doesn't have much to do. I figure that an old-school director like William Castle wasn't about to let Pryor play the kind of character for which he eventually became renowned. In the end it's not any kind of comedy classic but funny enough for the brief period that it runs.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Busy Body" has much working in its favor.
First of all, it has a source book by comedy/crime writer Donald E. Westlake. I haven't read the original novel but the script has several amusing elements that perfectly fit Westlake's style.
It also has that "Vic Mizzy sound." Mizzy did music for "Green Acres" and "The Addams Family" as well as Don Knotts vehicles. His work is more typically associated with rural or small-town atmospheres, and it's good to hear that it works just as well in an urban setting. He provides a memorable theme (though not in the way you think).
"The Busy Body" has first-rate comedy line-up. Among those who get laughs are Godfrey Cambridge and Mary Ingles as a couple of inept hit-men; a young Dom DeLuis trying to make a name for himself in a thankless role; and comedy veteran Ben Blue. And Arlene Golonka is always worth watching.
Bill Dana is unable to make much of his blink-and-you'll miss him part (the writers should have given him more business). Now comedic legend Richard Pryor, in his first major film role, does a creditable job playing it straight as a police officer.
The script has many amusing plot twists (probably derived straight from Westlake).
If you are bothered by graves, caskets, the funeral industry, and dead bodies in general, you won't enjoy this movie. If, however, desecrating graves, digging up corpses, and seeing live people trapped with dead people all suits your sense of humor, you'll be more inclined to enjoy this little comedy.
The problems with the feature include its star, Sid Caesar. This is a part that might have been written for Don Knotts (or, in an earlier era, Danny Kaye). Caesar could be a funny man, though one is probably more prone to laugh at his shtick if one grew up with "Your Show of Shows" (I did not, coming along in the next decade). Caesar starred in few movies, and it was questionable whether he ever should have ever tried to carry a feature, since he can give such good support. Dick van Dyke would have been a happier choice for the lead -- or Knotts, who would at least give us his googly eyes.
Robert Ryan's crime boss is played to the hilt -- and that's a bad thing. Don't expect Ryan to turn in the sort of part that would be offered to serious actors in movies like "Airplane" a decade later, where they were able to be serious yet spoofing. Ryan has one note and he seems far too serious and professional a crime boss to hire this gang.
Caesar plays a young man who has just been made a Board Member of his Organization. Unfortunately, the organization is criminal; and when he loses one million dollars (that was a lot of money in those days -- think "Austin Powers") that may be buried with a friend, the crime boss tells him to recover it -- or else. But Caesar has various problems in locating the right body. At one time he has too few bodies; at another time, too many. The movie is helped by DVD -- on television it was always pan-and-scan, and that kills comedy. Director William Castle (a strange choice) doesn't really use the entire frame to full comedic effect, but it's nice to see the movie as it was intended.
It's not one of the all-time great comedies and it's not a hitherto undiscovered classic. It's just a sweet little comedy about dead bodies and grave robbing and I like it.
Having spent the best part of the first 15 years of his directorial
career at Columbia mostly under the aegis of prolific but cheapjack
producer Sam Katzman William Castle defected to a smaller studio,
Allied Artists, in order to make his mark on film history with the
horror comic MACABRE (1958). When he improved his gimmicky formula with
HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL at the same studio but with a bigger star
(Vincent Price), his old employers Columbia invited him back into their
stable where he spent another five years making some of his most
popular and enduring work like THE TINGLER (1959; which reunited him
with Price), HOMICIDAL (1961) and STRAIT-JACKET (1964; with Hollywood
legend Joan Crawford). At this point, he made a three-movie detour to
Universal (where he had work intermittently before in the late
1940s/early 1950s) which culminated in the black comedy LET'S KILL
UNCLE (1966; with Nigel Green), by which time his tried-and-tested
fusion of horror, comedy and showmanship had begun to wear thin. This
signaled yet another (and, in retrospect, final) move on Castle's part
resulting in a somewhat unproductive but eventually rewarding 10-year
tenure at Paramount
Although he had previously dwelt in outright comedy, even during his golden period, with his two resistible Tom Poston vehicles ZOTZ! (1962) and his fairly disastrous colour remake of THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1963) what came next was almost as significant a departure as MACABRE had been from his earlier work. Indeed, in THE BUSY BODY, Castle had at his disposal the best cast of his entire career a sure sign for an iconoclastic producer-director that he had hit the mainstream. Ironically, the film's rare screening one Sunday evening many years ago on local TV proved to be my introduction to the director's work and it would be much later that I caught up with the aforementioned movies which had made his reputation as, to put it bluntly, the poor man's Alfred Hitchcock! Indeed, the film under review had the potential of becoming Castle's own THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY (1955; the "Master of Suspense"'s second favourite among his films) given the funereal aspects of the plot but this being the "anything goes" Swinging Sixties, rather than the delightfully subtle black humour of the latter, it went for the broad and overdone farcical style of Stanley Kramer's IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (1963; with which it shared leading man Sid Casear, no less!) in its depiction of yet another multi-character chase after buried loot
This is not to say that the resultant movie is unenjoyable and my middlebrow rating attests to that but perhaps one expected something more durable from the likes of tough guys Robert Ryan and Charles McGraw, Anne Baxter and Kay Medford, emerging comedians Richard Pryor (in his film debut), Godfrey Cambridge and Dom DeLuise, veteran comics Ben Blue (also returning from the Kramer opus) and George Jessel, etc. Caesar is the latest addition to the "board" of racketeer Ryan (having a great time lampooning his established image), chosen for his sartorial sense which the boss believes will lend a much-needed touch of class to the organization (including McGraw, whom Ryan berates for looking just like a hoodlum!). However, the protagonist is continuously checked on by mother Medford (perhaps the film's single funniest line has her tell Police Lieutenant Pryor: "What'd you think that I'm one of those possessive mothers?!") and also becomes involved with two women shady Baxter and ex-showgirl Arlene Golonka, actually the wife of a Caesar associate whose death during a barbecue and subsequent burial wearing the suit he normally carries a million dollars in for Ryan sets the whole plot in motion. Also on hand are a mortician and his sacked assistant (DeLuise), a beloved cop's funeral (at which Caesar ends up being among the pallbearers), an insurance fraud gone awry that leads to murder (again, Caesar becomes the unwitting patsy for these), Caesar's proverbial "taken for a ride" by Cambridge and partner which features a couple of dummies (one of which creates much consternation when propped on a park bench) and, of course, the multiple unearthing of the grave which invariably contains no body. No prizes for guessing the true villain's identity but, for the most part, the film makes for a pleasant if hefty 102 minutes especially in the good-looking widescreen print I watched.
I had REALLY low expectations for this film. After all, considering
that is starred Sid Caesar, Robert Ryan, Richard Pryor and Anne Baxter
and I'd never even heard of it was a very bad sign. In addition, while
these are noted celebrities, they don't exactly seem to go
together--along with the likes of Marty Engels, Godfrey Cambridge, Dom
DeLuise, Charles McGraw and Georgie Jessel! This casting just seemed
bizarre....very, very bizarre--like the casting was done through a
random drawing. Plus, the producer (William Castle) had Richard Pryor
playing a cop--yes, a cop!
The film begins with Caesar being asked to join the board of directors...of the mob. However, soon he gets himself in trouble because he arranges a funeral for one the the gangsters and accidentally buries him in a suit--a suit with $1,000,000 sewn into the lining. He's ordered to dig the guy up--and finds the body and the suit are missing. So, it's up to Caesar to QUICKLY find it or face the wrath of the boss (Ryan).
This film looks about the quality of an episode of a 60s sit-com. I almost expected a laugh track! Broad writing, very broad characters and a lot of flat jokes--this would explain why I'd never heard of the film. While it's not terrible, this isn't exactly a glowing endorsement. Probably not worth your time.
By the way, how could Caesar's character dig up a grave in a suit and have not a single speck of dirt on him---twice!?
This late-period William Castle film is one of his pallid attempts at
comedy. It's amiable, yet mediocre in its delivery. Sid Caesar (during
one of the lesser parts of his career) plays the scapegoat for Robert
Ryan's gang of hoods. Looking at the cast of this film, as well as the
original publicity material, it's obvious that Castle was trying to
make his own version of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World". In addition
to Caesar, there is also Dom Deluise, Kay Medford, Godfrey Cambridge,
Marty Ingels, and Richard Pryor in his first film. Arlene Golonka is
also present as the ditzy young dancer in the ridiculous feather
The main problem with this film, is that the two main actors are totally unlikable. Ryan is unnecessarily mean to Caesar, and Caesar in turn, is too much of a wuss. The other actors all seem so oblivious to what's happening...like they are all doing their own stand-up routines instead of furthering the story. The script is OK, I think Castle just didn't know how to direct comedy.
On the plus side, though, this film has a very catchy theme song, composed by Vic Mizzy, and a funny sequence where a woman tries talking to a mannequin at a bus stop. It's a slight step up from Castle's "The Spirit is Willing", but that's not saying very much.
With Sid Caesar recently departed and this movie finally available to order from Netflix, I finally got this a few days ago. I watched it with Mom just now and she wasn't too crazy for it. I wasn't either though I was highly amused by Caesar much of the time I was watching whenever he had scenes with Dom DeLuise, Ben Blue, or Richard Pryor whose movie debut this was. His highlights, however, was when he took a dummy (don't ask) to a bus bench where he spoke Russian gibberish to a woman from there and when he encountered Arlene Golonka when she was in her stripper costume and he reacts to her moves. Director William Castle, who usually made gimmicky horror movies, doesn't seem to have much of a comedy flair but the players do the best with what's given them. So on that note, The Busy Body is worth a look. P.S. It was a nice surprise to see the Chicago landmarks since it was made at the time my parents were living there and when I was the first-born of the family. And to find out Ms. Golonka was also born there.
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