DVD Review: One Body Too Many

So, have you ever been watching The Wizard of Oz and find yourself looking at the Tin Woodsman and thinking, “Mm–that Jack Haley. I’d like to see him naked holding an armload of adorable black kittens.” No? Me neither. But if there’s somebody out there that’s had that thought, then I’ve found a movie for you.

One Body Too Many is a 1940s comedy that plays with the standard formula and tropes of those Old Dark House movies I’ve been hunting down during the last few years. Haley plays Albert Tuttle, a nerdy but ambitious insurance salesman who has an appointment to sign up a new client, Cyrus Rutherford, an eccentric millionaire so obsessed with astrology that he’s built an observatory on top of his mansion. What Albert doesn’t know is that his prospective client has no need to buy life insurance; he’s just dropped dead.

We cut to the familiar old scene of the family gathered at the mansion to hear the reading of the will–only, it isn’t a will. Cyrus Rutherford’s lawyer instead reads a preamble to his will, which leaves amounts from $50,000 to $1.50 for cab fare to the various people in the room–Rutherford’s sister and her husband, a collection of nieces and nephews, the astrologer who helped Rutherford design his observatory, the housekeeper and butler. (This last is played by Bela Lugosi, who doesn’t really get much to do in this movie besides play out a running joke by offering everyone cups of coffee which the viewer has reason to believe he’s poisoned to get rid of “all the rats.”) The preamble to Rutherford’s will also features some snarky comments about these people so that we get some quick sketches of their characters and can sort out the nice ones from the nasties… for the most part, anyway.

According to the terms of the preamble, Rutherford’s coffin is to be placed in a glass vault on top of the observatory so that he can always gaze up at the stars. This vault will take a few days to be built. No one can leave the house before then without forfeiting their inheritance. Once the body is in its final resting place, the will will be read. If, for some reason, the body isn’t placed in the vault according to Rutherford’s wishes, then the terms of the will will be reversed–that is, the people who were to receive the largest amounts of money will get pocket change and the original recipients of the small amounts will be rich. At this point, no one has read the will and don’t know what they are going to inherit, but from the snarky remarks in the preamble we can all guess who Rutherford did and didn’t like.

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DVD Review: Dark Shadows–the end of “The Beginning”

Although I’ve put the next series of Dark Shadows on DVD in my queue, I’m not sure I’ll be reviewing any more after this. We’ve come to the part of Dark Shadows that everyone who knows anything about the show is familiar with.

There isn’t much else to tell: Willie Loomis, now played by John Karlen, continues to make himself repugnant by committing petty thefts around Collinwood and threatening the rest of the cast until even his partner-in-crime Jason is sick of it and wants him to go away. But you can’t push Willie around–Willie won’t go. He’s determined to stay around long enough to steal something expensive and shiny; jewels seem to be a special object of fascination for him.

The Painting of BarnabasIt isn’t the ring and medallion displayed in Barnabas’s portrait he’s after, however. According to Collins family tradition, Barnabas went to England and died there and presumably took his valuables with him.

Further research into the family’s history, with David’s assistance, turns up the story of one Naomi Collins, a lady who was once given some gemstones by a pirate and wore them to her grave.

Everyone except for David and Willie thinks that the pirate part of this story sounds silly, but they believe the part about Naomi being buried with her jewelry to be true. Willie is also urged on by the tell-tale sound of a beating heart, although it doesn’t seem to make him feel guilty about anything.
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DVD Review: Dark Shadows–Heading toward Barnabas Collins

During the aftermath of the Phoenix storyline, as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard recovers from her coma and returns home, a new, mysterious stranger appears in Collinsport. His name is Jason McGuireJason McGuire and he’s an extremely smarmy character with a suspect Irish accent. He claims to be an old friend of Paul Stoddard, Elizabeth’s husband who disappeared more than eighteen years ago. McGuire hints that he knows something about Paul’s disappearance and, more than that, holds this knowledge over Elizabeth. Within days of his arrival in town, he’s forced her to invite him to stay at Collinwood.

McGuire also seems to know something about Collinwood. One evening while Roger is searching the cellar for some paintings he purchased from Sam Evans ten years ago, he encounters the mysterious houseguest examining the padlock on the door to that even-more mysterious locked room. The two chat about McGuire’s long-absent friend, Paul Stoddard. When, asks Roger, did McGuire see Paul last?

McGuire grins and gestures at the basement floor at the foot of the stairs. “Right here.” A moment later, he adds that Paul was packing up a few things before leaving Collinwood, but I don’t believe that’s what he meant at all.
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DVD Review: Dark Shadows, finally the conclusion of the Phoenix saga

At the close of the last set of Dark Shadows episodes on DVD, parapsychologist Dr. Guthrie proposed a jaunt to the vault/graveyard of an old New England family named Stockbridge to open up the tomb of Laura Murdoch Stockbridge–a lady who died by fire exactly 200 years ago. Carolyn Stoddard and her former fiance Joe were shocked by the request and just a tad reluctant to join him, but as this DVD set begins, the trio is at the crypt.

Laura's empty graveSo, what’s inside Laura Murdoch Stockbridge’s tomb? Nothing.

Nor, after a spot of late-night grave digging, is there anything to be found in the coffin of Laura Murdoch Radcliffe, who died 100 years ago by fire, except for a nice satin lining. Their bodies have disappeared as completely as that of the unidentified woman who burnt to death in Phoenix.

While Dr. Guthrie and his companions are at the vault, they discover more historical evidence in the collection of books the old caretaker keeps concerning the Stockbridge family.

An article clipped from an old newspaper reveals the full story of Laura Murdoch Radcliffe’s death. She burned alive at her home with her son David in her arms. In spite of attempts to rescue them, neither wanted to be saved from the fire.

1867 news clippings
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DVD Review: Dark Shadows, a little more of the Phoenix

Now that Elizabeth Collins Stoddard is out of the way, Roger overrides her instructions to Vicky and Carolyn not to let David near Laura. He is, after all, the boy’s father and he isn’t as intimidated by the two girls as he is by his big sister. He lets David have a sleep-over at the cottage where Laura has been staying. While the boy sleeps in his mother’s arms on the sofa, Josette makes one of her jasmine-scented appearances; Laura sends her away, saying that there’s nothing the ghost can do while she’s holding her son. Nothing else happens. After all their predictions of disaster, Vicky and Carolyn are a little disappointed the next morning when David tells them that he had a nice time with his mom.

Dr. Guthrie, meanwhile, proposes a séance to contact Josette. He’s doubtful that she’ll appear, but I was sure she’d show up. She’s been in more episodes lately than Joe or Maggie. Roger sneers as usual, but agrees to it. Laura refuses to attend.

The séance is performed on a dark and stormy night. Great! I love this stuff.
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DVD Review: Dark Shadows, more of the Phoenix saga

While watching Gone With the Wind recently, I also viewed some of the extras in the DVD set, including screen tests for prospective casting. I’d forgotten that 30 years before taking the role of Elizabeth Collins Stoddart, young Joan Bennett had been one of the Scarlett O’Hara finalists before Vivien Leigh knocked her, Paulette Goddard, and all the other contenders out of the running.

I mention this since, after weeks of having very little to do except keep Collins family secrets, Joan Bennett finally has an opportunity to put in a real performance.

The Phoenix paintingWe learn at last what force lies behind those strange compulsions moving the characters to act in strange ways (as well as keep the plot going): it’s the family ghost, Josette Collins.

Now that Sam Evans is no longer able to paint pictures of Laura Collins in flames, Josette takes a more direct approach. She appears in David’s bedroom and completes the unfinished painting herself.

When Vicky goes into David’s room, she is horrified to find that the David-shaped blank space in one corner has been filled in–with David’s face. The others are likewise terrified, since no one had been in the room before Vicky went upstairs. No one they know of could have finished the painting. Yet the paint is still wet.
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DVD Review: Dark Shadows–The Phoenix

When we last visited the charming coastal town of Collinsport, Maine, Laura Collins, Roger’s long-absent wife, had returned to ask for a divorce and to reclaim her son David. But as her story progressThe Phoenix paintinges, it becomes increasingly obvious that something is not-quite right about Laura. She has a peculiar effect on certain people, especially her son, and some very odd and interesting things are happening.

Sam Evan’s painting of a woman amid flames is almost finished. The woman portrayed is clearly Laura Collins. Lines fan out behind her like rays of light or stylized wings. A David-shaped blank spot remains in one lower corner. Everyone who sees the painting is appalled by it and calls it horrible. Actually, I think it’s kind of cool–Sam’s best work from what I’ve seen.

In spite of her opinion of the painting, Vicky feels compelled to buy it and take it back to Collinwood to show the family. When David sees it, he loves it and wants to hang it in his bedroom.

That night, the painting glows and the head of Laura Collins emerges from it until it looms large over the foot of the sleeping boy’s bed. The huge, blonde head does not chant “Tom Stewart killed me! Tom Stewart killed me!” although the floating head of the murdered singer in Tormented is the first thing that springs to my mind.

David awakes as if from a nightmare.

The Floating Head of Laura Collins

Then things begin to get even weirder.
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DVD Review: Set 4 of Dark Shadows: The Beginning

Since the 3rd set of DVDs for the early episodes of Dark Shadows isn’t available from Netflix, I debated whether or not to wait for them or to go on to the 4th set.

Josette's ghostIt was the appearance of Josette Collins’s ghost at the very of the 2nd set that prompted me to skip ahead and hope I wouldn’t miss very much.

No, as it turned out, I didn’t miss much at all. The murder mystery is drawing toward a conclusion

To my delight, the first episode in the 4th set begins just after Roger Collins has been arrested for the murder of Bill Malloy. I gather that there was some business about a distinctive pen being found by Vicky in a suspicious place (I did see the beginning of this; Burke gave the pen to Carolyn, and Roger took it from her). Roger apparently dropped the pen, and then made an incriminating ass of himself. And now he’s being questioned by the police.
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DVD Review: Winding up the first 2 sets of Dark Shadows: The Beginning

I started out to watch the first two DVD sets of Dark Shadows: The Beginning, 70 episodes in all, and have reached the end of the second set. At this point, the investigation into Bill Malloy’s murder still going on.

My overall impressions:

Before I started watching Dark Shadows, the one thing I’d heard about the very early shows is that they were laughably bad, with frequent boom shadows and flubbed lines. Yes, these things do happen. Curious shadows appear on walls behind the actors, or an object that might be a microphone or part of a camera rigging is glimpsed at the edge of the screen. My favorite was the shadow of one of the TV crew crossing the foot of Vicky’s bed in a very early episode. Lines are sometimes misspoken, but they aren’t huge gaffs. I note from the chalkboard held up at the opening of each show that almost all of the shows as filmed are first-take efforts; the poor actors don’t get a second chance if they slip up. So I’m inclined to be forgiving.
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