“Is there no morality left in this world?”
Waldo Trumbull (Vincent Price) is a nasty despicable and greedy drunkard. He married the beautiful Amaryllis (Joyce Jameson) in order to takeover her father’s undertaking business. Theirs is a dysfunctional family. Living with them is Amaryllis’s father Amos Hinchley (Boris Karloff). He is senile and not too sure of what goes on around him. Amaryllis thinks she is an opera singer. Her husband and the cat’s ear drums do not. Trumbull ridicules everyone in his sphere especially his wife.
Felix Gillie (Peter Lorre) is Trumbull’s assistant. He is in love with Amaryllis. He is incompetent and down trodden. John F. Black, Esq. (Basil Rathbone) is the owner of the building where Trumbull’s business and home is. Trumbull owes Black back rent. Black is uptight, straight laced, and a narcoleptic. He falls into a coma-like state at a moment’s notice and for indeterminate periods of time.
The business of ‘Hinchley and Trumbull’ has not been doing well lately. They have been reusing the same casket for at least thirteen years. They just dump the corpse in the grave and resell the casket. Trumbull recently resorted to sneaking into a rich man’s home and suffocating him in the night. However, the widow left town taking everything and never paid Trumbull for the funeral. A new scheme must be devised.
Since Trumbull owes Black back rent, and he needs customers, why not kill two birds with one stone? When they go to kill poor Mr. Black he falls into a narcoleptic state. Since the family is aware of his predicament Mr. Black is placed in a crypt instead of the ground. During the night the grounds keeper hears Mr. Black bellowing. He opens the crypt and Mr. Black, now thoroughly pissed, runs off into the night looking for revenge.
“The Comedy of Terrors” had a limited release in December 1963 and a wider release in January 1964. It was directed by Jacques Tourneur and it stars Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Basil Rathbone, Peter Lorre, Joyce Jameson, Joe E. Brown and last but not least Orangey (Rhubarb) the cat. The cat got top billing above Basil Rathbone.
The performances are great but the comedy was not. That’s not totally fair. I’m not usually a comedy person so I shouldn’t judge. I was there for the stars. Price is fabulous. Snarky and irascible. His mannerisms are perfect and he delivers his lines to a degree where they just flow. Even a bad line sounds good coming from him. Rathbone belts out Shakespeare and wields both axe and sword with flourish. Lorre is a mouse flitting around trying not to get stepped on.
Lorre died a couple months after the film’s general release. Karloff had the least amount of lines. Karloff was supposed to play Mr. Black but his arthritis required a less active part. He was still professional. Even if you’re not into comedy or slap stick it’s well worth watching just for the acting alone. If you like black comedies this one will fill the bill.