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The Busy Body

The Busy Body
1967 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic widescreen / 102 min. / Street Date July 1, 2008 / 14.95
Starring Sid Caesar, Robert Ryan, Anne Baxter, Kay Medford, Jan Murray, Richard Pryor, Arlene Golonka, Charles McGraw, Ben Blue, Dom DeLuise, Bill Dana, Godfrey Cambridge, Marty Ingels, George Jessel
Harold Stein
Film Editor Edwin H. Bryant
Original Music Vic Mizzy
Written by Ben Starr from a novel by Donald Westlake
Produced and Directed by William Castle

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Well, it's an impressive cast. The 1967 crime comedy The Busy Body limps along looking for laughs and finds aggravation instead. Taken from a novel by Donald E. Westlake (Point Blank, The Hot Rock) but put together like a talky TV episode, The Busy Body can only be recommended for those interested in seeing some of its more interesting cast members. The producer and director is William Castle, whose career after his Columbia horror movies was mostly a succession of disasters: The Spirit is Willing, Project X, Shanks. Castle's superb Rosemary's Baby is like a get-out-of-jail card, but this maladroit collection of stale jokes is no picnic.


Mob gopher George Norton (Sid Caesar) is promoted to the Board of Directors for the ruthless gang boss Charley Barker (Robert Ryan). Money courier Archie Brody (Bill Dana) is murdered, and Norton unknowingly buries him in a suit with a million dollars hidden in its lining. When Archie's body disappears from its coffin, the chase is on. George has difficulty clearing his name, while interacting with shady characters like a mortician's assistant (Dom DeLuise), Board Member Fred Harwell (Charles McGraw), nervous trucking operator Felix Rose (Ben Blue), mysterious woman Margo Foster (Anne Baxter) and the gun-toting Murray (Jan Murray). Not only that, but henchmen Mike and Willie (Godfrey Cambridge & Marty Ingels) try to take George for a ride, while Lt. Whittaker (Richard Pryor) pegs George for Murder One. Archie's widow Bobbi (Arlene Golonka) is attracted to George, while his mother (Kay Medford) pesters him over the phone.

At over 100 minutes, The Busy Body is easily a half-hour too long. The story plods through interminable dialogue scenes. What it has to offer is its interesting parade of personalities, all of whom do their best to bring the stubborn material to life. Robert Ryan is smooth and menacing while Anne Baxter makes the most of a fairly rancid femme fatale part. Charles McGraw is also on his game, but along with Bill Dana, Godfrey Cambridge and Marty Ingels he gets one or two moments to shine and that's it.

Faring better is Dom DeLuise, with a part that suits him well -- he ends up throwing vegetables at Sid Caesar. Arlene Golonka is cute as a ditzy burlesque dancer and prime suspect in the murder. In his first film, Richard Pryor is okay as the detective but seems less than thrilled by a role that doesn't give him little opportunity to show any personality.

The problem is the script, which thinks that the presence of a dead body is all one needs to be a Black Comedy. The show plays like second-rate standup material. It's all ethnic-neutral; someone like Mel Brooks would flaunt the Jewish-canted humor for all it's worth. Poor Kay Medford's overbearing mother is a waste. Sid Caesar puts considerable dignity into his thin character and keeps the mugging to a minimum, but the script doesn't give him many choices. At one point he cries out just like Lou Costello. In what is perhaps the worst comedy direction of the decade, director Castle holds on an intersection in the park while cops and suspects take turns running through the scene in alarm. The Busy Body is one of those pictures that could be radically improved by trimming scenes, cutting off many of the dead beginnings and endings to pick up the pace. In fact, doing so would be a worthwhile editorial exercise.

Savant found only one scene to have the spark of a good idea. George Norton has already had a screwy conversation with a Russian woman on a park bench; a stiff corpse sits between them. Norton runs off, but drives by the same location the next morning. The body is still there, with a blonde cozying up to it, purring flattery about how she likes a man who doesn't try to do all the talking. The unexpected foretaste of Weekend at Bernie's is actually halfway amusing. The Busy Body wants to be hip and just can't make the grade; I can imagine Paramount taking two aspirins to try and forget both it and Otto Preminger's Skiddoo!

Legend's DVD of The Busy Body looks fine in a clean enhanced transfer of a Techniscope original, giving us the idea that the show has been resting undisturbed in the vault until now. Fans of all those comic actors will appreciate Legend's effort. The packaging uses the film's original Frank Frazetta "Merry Chase" artwork style, probably lifted from Jack Davis for It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and repeated by Frazetta for at least a dozen comedies from After the Fox to What's New, Pussycat? The film's original tag line was reportedly, "A Joyous Comedy of Peril!" It doesn't do anything for me, but it beats the DVD's cover line "The Day the Mob MUFFED!" That tag seems to be missing a direct object, I think.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Busy Body rates:
Movie: Fair ++
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 9, 2008

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

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