Judge Clark Douglas has a busy body. It...ah, we'll spare you that joke.
The day the mob muffed!
Facts of the Case
George Norton (Sid Caeser, It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World) is a very sweet and humble guy. He has a simple job fetching sandwiches for a powerful mob boss (Robert Ryan, The Set-Up). However, the mob boss is looking to change his organization. He wants it to seem a little classier, a little sharper, and a little better-looking. George has just the kind of image the boss is looking for, so the boss decides to make George a board member.
The boss thinks a lot of George's taste in fashion, and one of George's first assignments is picking out a suit to bury a former board member in. Unfortunately, the suit George picked out contained a million dollars in cash sewn inside! Now George has to go dig up the body and get the money back. Sure enough, it seems that someone else has all ready taken the money. It's up to George to figure out who has the corpse…and more importantly, the corpse's suit…before the mob decides to terminate him!
They say that timing is everything. The Busy Body is proof of that. Here is a comedy with a solid concept and a talented cast. All the pieces would seem to be in place for a very funny movie. However, the simple element of poor comic timing throws everything out of place. Instead of a riotous load of fun, we get an uncomfortably paced movie that is far more likely to make viewers fidget than giggle. So what went wrong, exactly?
The direction by William Castle (House on Haunted Hill) is terribly laborious, turning moments that should be very funny into dead weight. I'm all in favor of ridiculously silly movies that fire off wacky gags at a fast pace. For something as silly as The Busy Body, that's precisely what it takes. You have to keep things moving quickly, creating enough time for laughter, but not enough time for the viewer to realize the gag isn't funny. Here, the film will frequently take two or three minutes to get to a cheap gag that superior slapstick comedy would reach within ten seconds.
Permit me to give you an example. The opening scene features George becoming a member of the board. He is very excited about this. His mother is excited too and calls him on the mob boss's telephone (which is contained in the board room). The mob boss hands George the phone, and George apologizes about his mother calling. The mob boss smiles generously and says it's fine. Now, there's a small joke being set up here. The gag is that the mob boss says everything is fine, but very shortly after George starts talking on the phone, the mob boss will yell and scream at George for talking to his mother on the phone during a board meeting. If this were a throwaway gag, it might earn a chuckle. However, it's dragged out far longer than it needs to be. George spends two or three minutes talking on the phone, and by the time Robert Ryan's outburst arrives, the opportunity for the punch line to work has come and gone. But that's not the worst of it. The exact same gag is used later on in the film…and it takes just as long for the exact same punch line to arrive.
I like a lot of the cast members here, but no one is in top form. The film is perhaps most notable for featuring the first screen performance of Richard Pryor (Silver Streak), who turns in a mostly non-comedic performance as a police detective. Pryor is effective enough, but this role offers very little of the brilliance Pryor would exhibit later on. Sid Caesar has a few nice lines, but mostly he seems a bit less enthusiastic than usual here. Robert Ryan is a brilliant actor, but he seems to be playing down to the material here. There are occasions when he seems a little embarrassed to be participating in this production. Anne Baxter (The Ten Commandments) has a funny moment or two, but she's underused. Cameos by the likes of Dom DeLuise, Ben Blue, George Jessel, and others do very little to help things.
Oh, I haven't yet mentioned the music. It's by composer Vic Mizzy, and I am sorry to report that I have developed an unnatural hatred for his score for The Busy Body. It's on-the-nose enough to give anyone within range a nosebleed. Mizzy accentuates every single moment he thinks is amusing, telling us with his irrepressibly playful music just how funny everything is. There were moments simply hearing Mizzy's score appear during a scene made me want to pull my hair out. It's technically not terrible stuff, and I suppose it might even be entertaining on album. However, it's just plain awful within the film.
The DVD transfer is fairly solid for a 1967 film. The picture seems a little flat at times, but things have been generally well-preserved. There are very small scratches and flecks throughout the entire film, but nothing too distracting. The mono sound is adequate. As with most of the releases from the new Legend Films label, there are no extras of any kind included on the disc.
Legend Films has been releasing a lot of stuff that has been previously unavailable on DVD. After seeing The Busy Body, it's not hard to see why it took so long for this one to arrive. A disappointing dud of a comedy.
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