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One Body Too Many (1944) April 25th, 2020

In my last review I brazenly compared The Uninvited to Scooby-Doo, which in retrospect now feels like a challenge too tempting for the cinema gods to ignore. As luck would have it the next film we watched, One Body Too Many is more like a Scooby-Doo template than it’s its own film. If I were to list the similarities between the two it would sound like Bill Hader recommending One Body Too Many like Stefon. This movie has everything: corpse desecration, a mansion full of secret passageways, paintings with eyes that follow you around a room and a naked-tin-woodsman. You know, it’s that thing where Jack Haley plays a life insurance salesman who unsuspectingly arrives at a will reading to sell the dead man life insurance only to be hired on the spot to watch over the body overnight to ensure the prospective inheritors don’t meddle with the funeral arrangements and along the way ends up naked in a laundry basket?

The similarities between One Body Too Many and Scooby-Doo are too numerous to be anything but the telltale indicator of the cartoon glutton’s driving influences. This was my first experience watching this kind of campy horror-comedy and I really enjoyed it. The greedy family conniving after their inheritence premise reminds me of a campy version Rian Johnson’s 2019 who dunnit Knives Out.

I want to recommend this movie if you like silly comedies but please humor me as I bore you with discussions about image quality and the importance of film restoration. One Body Too Many isn’t lauded as a classic film and like many other forgotten movies it’s only available in almost unwatchable quality. Here’s a screenshot from the scan of One Body Too Many I watched.

I experienced a strange surreal feeling early in watching One Body Too Many when I recognized Jack Haley as the Tin Woodsman from The Wizard of Oz. It occurred to me in that moment that I had never bothered to learn the name of the man who brought to life the heartless automaton featuring so prominently in my film memory, or memory at all. I didn’t feel bad about not knowing more about Jack Haley, I actually felt a little down. Like I had accidentally lost a little bit of the magic of the Wizard of Oz. It’s embarrassing but I guess I never considered that Dorothy’s companions were really people and not scarecrows, lions or tin men. It’s like my suspension of disbelief for that film extended deep into my subconscious. Those characters were who they appeared to be on screen no matter how ridiculous that idea is. Enter One Body Too Many throwing a bucket of cold water all over my childhood fantasy melting it down to a steaming puddle of nothing but Jack Haley’s smug face fat with the audacity to have a career. You’re a one role man Jack!

I had a similar experience with Charles Laughton after watching The Old Dark House and finding his performances in Island of Lost Souls and Jamaica Inn equally entertaining. Suddenly he was everywhere and he was terrific. I don’t want to lose the magic of The Wizard of Oz by becoming more familiar with Jack Haley’s work. I wonder if people find it difficult to suspend disbelief when watching modern films featuring actors they associate from other films. How many people couldn’t disassociate Alan Rickman from Hans Gruber when watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? I know it’s difficult for me to watch Laurence Fishburne perform without thinking of him first as Morpheus. I suppose this is the first time I’ve acknowledged this strange magic old movies possess. You might be drawn to a film because it features a performance from one of your favorite actors but the mere fact that you recognize them brings with it a whole breadth of associations you have to forget in order to really believe them as that character. I know the more old movies I watch the more difficult it’ll be to really forget the recognizable faces but that’s ok, it’s just the price of seeing more movies.

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