Movie and Book Reviews. Find c. 400 reviews from category list for film-noir, horror, sci-fi, mystery/crime, and drama titles; a few book reviews in book category. (All reviews have spoilers.)

With expert ratings by Farmermouse himself. Who’s he? A four inch tall rustic rodent. A stuffed animal. Well, that’s just a manifestation, as portrayed by me, David Carniglia.

Farmermouse is about thirty years in the making, along with his ancestry and his habitat, Wubble County. We could go back to medieval England, and the Wubble Shire, to inquire of Farmermouse’s oldest known ancestor, Yeoman Mouse. We’ll see.

Under the Prose/Poetry/Essay category, you’ll find some bits and pieces on Farmermouse and his (alternative fantasy) world.

Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited From Slavery. 9.5/10

By Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jennifer Frank of the Hartford Courant. Published by Ballantine Books (trade paperback edition), 2005. 269 pgs. ISBN: 0-345-46783-3.

The authors set up this narrative completely and succinctly:

“…[T]he North’s story is thought to be heroic…Northerners were the good guys in the Civil War. They freed the slaves.

“Not all of this is exactly mythology, but it is a convenient and white-washed shorthand “

“The truth is that slavery was a national phenomena. The North shared in the wealth it created, and in the oppression it required” (Introduction, xxv).

This book is an eye-opener. I was aware of the complicity of New England’s insurance companies, some of which are still prominent, in providing ‘coverage’ for southern slave owners ‘property.’ Also, it’s widely known that, at the time of the Revolution, most northern states had slavery. That ‘institution’ very gradually disappeared over the early decades of the 19th century, surviving only south of the Ohio River and Mason-Dixon boundary.

That the Civil War was fought over the legality of secession, and not slavery per se, is difficult to dispute. Of course, without slavery, secession would’ve been a moot point. All of this is to say that regional, philisophic, and religious antipathy to slavery in the North did not imply much more than an abstract sympathy for black Americans, free or slave. White people may have thought that the lot of slaves was unjust, but equality between black and white wasn’t envisioned or desired by more than a handful of whites.

So, the author breaks down this pattern of outright complicity in slavery in every corner of the North. Particularly in New England. Shipbuilding, along with the textile and ivory industries, central to the industrial bloom in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts (and New York), were dependent on the need for slaveships, cotton, and ivory.

In other words, the ships were needed to bring slaves from Africa, the cotton from the South (conveyed on other Yankee vessels) for cloth woven into garments in the North, the ivory, also from Africa, for Northern factories to churn out piano keys and billiard balls. The ships, crews, and slaves themselves (as the cargo, or later, simply property) were financed, paid, or insured by Northern banks and insurance companies.

In a sense, it’s hard to see how the North and South drifted apart politically, given this lucrative and symbiotic partnership based on slavery. The authors find complicity is such arcane fields as apprehension of fugitive slaves, the manufacture of the very manacles of bondage, not to mention clothes and food for the slaves.

The links between North American, Carribean, and South American slavery is instructive. Rum, food went from Northern ports to support slavery in other parts of the world. Another well-known fact, the end of the domestic slave trade in 1808, proved to be worth little more than the paper it was written on.

The illicit slave trade (as if slave trade had legitimacy) continued even during the Civil War. All of which was possible with the indifference, acquiescence, tolerance, and outright participation of Northerners. The western states, bordering the Great Lakes, had less culpability in slavery; especially after the region’s gradual emancipation.

Nonetheless, lynchings and race riots were not uncommon across the North, particularly in border areas. Illinois’s proximity to Missouri led to a racial incident from a slave state to re-ignite (literally) in the so-called free state.

If the book has a flaw, it’s something inherent in the topic; there’s simply too much ground to cover. Might have been a bit tighter read to stick to the New England states’ complicity. Even so, including the arc of New Englander John Brown’s mission, as well as that of several other prominent abolitionists, adds a lot of background to the central story.

But to focus on New England’s role in slavery, we have to go back over two centuries before the Civil War. The African situation has to figure in, although juggling with the South itself, border state issues (i.e., Nat Turner’s Rebellion), the Dred Scott decision, the Kansas-Nebraska Act), and/or other countries with a hand in slavery lead us all over the map from one chapter to the next.

Maybe a more significant quibble with the authors is a hypothetical situation. In the afterword the question is posed–suppose there had been no slavery? “It is obvious that, at the very least, America’s extraordinary ascent into the world arena [without slavery] would have taken far longer than it did” (p.215). Why? I think that conclusion rests on a faulty premise.

The introduction of slavery into North America roughly paralleled the sequence of white colonization; there is no counterexample that could show a different outcome. Is it unrealistic to posit that settlers all up and down the colonies couldn’t have thrived on family farms, pastures, and livestock?

Particularly in the South, with its better soil and climate, I think that the historical version is the unlikeliest. It begs the question: why did people emigrate (first from England, and other countries later)? For religious, economic, and political reasons, as has always been the case when people move on.

Due to some unique convergence of ideas, some people felt a need for slaves. I would say, there was an opportunity to recreate the vassal system with lords and peasants that had just began to break down in Europe by the 17th century. What is more medieval than a major house, surrounded by a vast acreage, worked by subject people for the lord’s benefit, both in wealth and status?

Mark Twain hit the nail on the head when he suggested–with tongue-in-cheek–that the popularity of Sir Walter Scott’s tales of chivalry brought about our Civil War. Unlike Europe, of course, here there was no ready supply of hapless laborers. So, slaves were the answer to an invented problem.

I’d go further and say: we might have come along even more rapidly without slavery (which would’ve also meant no Civil War). What’s remarkable isn’t that the U.S. became a major player on the world stage, but that we accomplished this despite the handicap of an the essentially anti-capitalist and inefficient slavery system.

Yes, cotton and tobacco made a lot of money for some people. But instead of a coterie of extreme wealth, surround by a mass of abject poverty, we might have had a broader class of self-sufficient farmers, with, hopefully, a surplus for cash or investment. That is,the system such as existed throughout most parts of the North.

To look at the North/South dichotomy another way, the Southern states functioned like so many colonies of the North. And, as in colonial experiences elsewhere, the South served as a cash cow for the North–along with its collaborators, the plantation owners–for the benefit of a clique in both areas.

In this case, uniquely, there were two sets of natives to deal with, the actual Native Americans, and the ‘imported’ native Africans. The first group was gradually, but decisively marginalized, the second was forced to make itself useful.

Against the relatively weak position of the South, which weakened increasingly as the 19th century neared its midpoint, the North was literally steaming ahead economically. It’s no wonder that Southern whites, top to bottom, were suspicious and defensive towards the North. They were motivated to fight the North because they feared that their society was endangered.

It was. What I can’t quite figure (as mentioned above) was what motivated the Union soldier in the war. As we saw in the New York Draft Riot of 1863, even compulsion didn’t work. Those guys fought against fighting. Of course, in ’61, neither side had much trouble getting recruits–for 90 day enlistments, that is. The South eventually had to resort to conscription too.

But to win the war, the Union armies had to conquer the South. No easy task, given that the Confederate states comprised an area about as large as western Europe. It would be interesting to know what the generals and the rank-and-file thought about their mission. It took Lincoln a few years to announce Emancipation; had the war ended quickly, there wouldn’t have been the need for that humanitarian policy–that was nonetheless a strategic necessity for Union victory.

I’ve gone well beyond the scope of this book. That’s because it’s so powerful and thought-provoking that the reader comes away with an alarming glimpse at our troubled past. In fact, we will never get away from slavery’s legacy.

An excellent book: 9.5 out of 10.

The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, 1972. 7.5 /10

Presented with an episodic structure, Bitter Tears is Fassbinder’s cinematic version of his play. The subject is a love affair involving fashion designer Petra (Margit Cartensen) and aspiring model, Karin (Hanna Schygulla). All of this under the eyes of Petra’s obscure secretary, Marlene (Irm Hermann).

This is the epitomy of a character-driven movie: there’s just one setting–Petra’s apartment–and a small cast. Kartin Schaake plays Petra’s friend, Sidonie; and there’s Petra’s daughters Gabrielle (Eva Mattes) and mom, Valerie (Fackelday). Petra’s divorced; Karin, who is separated from her husband, is Sidonie’s friend.

Petra’s awakened by Marlene’s quick opening of the blinds. On the phone with her mom, Petra makes excuses for not visiting with her. Marlene says nothing; but works on a painting. Still in bed, Petra dictates a letter, which Marlene types.

Petra puts on a wig while we hear a Platters record–they dance briefly, then Petra orders Marlene to finish the painting (it’s probably for a fashion ad). On the phone again, Petra makes an appointment with a client. Sidonie arrives. She hasn’t seen Petra in three years.

Already I sense that my comments are pure synopsis: this is, in one sense, a domestic documentary, a reality show. And my reaction probably reads like an amateurish version of a chapter from a French ‘new novel’ from the ’50s or ’60s by Alain Robbe-Grillet.

While Marlene looks and listens from behind a partition, Petra and Sidonie discuss the men in their lives. Petra has a vaguely smug look, Marlene, impassive. Anyway, Petra continues to talk about her failed marriage, “stuck in the mire” is her take on it.

Petra continues smirking, but seems to wipe away tears as she talks. Marlene serves coffee, then is whisked away. Marlene’s in an odd position–a live-in employee/ex?-lover. “Don’t take any notice of her” Petra tells Sidonie. I’m glad Sidonie notices Petra’s attitude “don’t sneer at me” she tells her.

Petra describes marriage in such idealistic terms, the idea is to “make everything anew,” so that it’s no wonder that her’s failed. When Sidonie replies that love isn’t that complicated, Petra brushes her off. In short it seems that her husband, Frank, was boring, conventional, and, not surprising given the time, domineering.

On the other hand, Petra objectifies him, finding fault with his habits and mannerisms. We see this mocking quality in her relationship with Marlene. Anyway, here’s Karin come knocking. “Things are a bit upside down” Petra tells her; she means the place is messy, but it’s a unintentional comment on her psychological mess as well.

Sidonie is going off with Karin. Petra invites Karin back the next night, ostensibly to model. So, then, she’s got Karin dolled up. I guess both her and Petra know what fashion is, but I can’t see it in what they’re wearing. Quaintly, Karin answers questions about herself by saying that she “just want my little corner of the world.”

When Karin realizes that they disagree on everything, she implores Petra “do we have to fight?” Remarkably, Petra says that they do. At any rate, they find enough to talk about; Karin lets on that husband abandoned her in Australia. Sad, but no big deal. How about “dad beat mom to death then hung himself.” Now, that’s a big deal.

Then Karin sums it up with “people like me until they hear my story.” At least Petra reassures her that she likes her all the more. And, “I’ll design a [fashion] collection especially for you…. I’ll make a top model out of you.” That sounds like a pathway to redemption for both of them.

I’m pretty certain, however, that Fassbinder isn’t about to give us a rainbows and happy trees tableau. Anyway, Petra starts talking about her first husband–he definitely sounds better than Frank. In the background, Karin starts to dance to the vintage American music. Petra falls right down into gloom and doom “people are hard and brutal…everyone’s replaceable.”

Now she’s trying to lure Karin by asking her to move in. She admits at least that she’s lonely. And then Petra says she loves her; Karin agrees to move in. The next scene, Karin’s lolling in bed while Petra tries to talk her into going back to school. They are indeed roommates “screw you” is Karin’s retort to Petra.

Eventually, Karin breaks down enough to let Petra nuzzle her; but she won’t go further because he hasn’t brushed her teeth (!). Then she says she just wants to read “We can’t play with each other 24 hours a day.” But Petra disagrees “we can.” It seems pretty clear that now Karin’s in the driver’s seat with this relationship.

She’d been weak to agree to moving in with Petra in the first place, as it was clear what the older woman was up to. At any rate. Karin’s playing her new role to the hilt–when Petra questions her about who she went dancing with, she shoots back with a load of double cannister, so to speak. “A big black man with a big black d**k.”

Forty five years ago that could’ve been an incindiary comment between many white women. Marlene is of course in the background working on another gauche design. Karin continues the taunts about her date; is some or all of it true? Does it matter? “You want to be told lies” Karin tells her.

Finally Karin admits she made the whole thing up. But “I need a man from time to time.” Sounds reasonable–what does Petra expect? Her further consolation “I just use men” is ironically something in her favor, in Petra’s eyes.

At this point, her love for Karin is something that she “aches” with; it may well be the deepest love of her life. As mentioned, she’s completely changed. No smirking hautiness, just passive expectation. So, she still needles Karin about the one-night-stand guy. Now he’s black once again but with this proviso: he has a “European face.” Is there such a thing?

Karin accuses Petra of being hysterical, no, she’s just “suffering.” Because she can’t possess her, it seems. In the paper, there’s an article on Petra, and a candid shot of Karin. They’re both happy about the coverage. But then, Karin gets a call from Freddy, her husband. He’s in Europe, and they want to get together (she says she loves him).

Petra is stunned; Karin now says that when she told Petra that she was divorcing him, it was just a future possibility, not an eventuality. I never thought this would happen, but Petra has transformed from a total unsympathetic character, to a pitiable one, and now even sympathetic one. Karin has been playing her exactly how she said she played men.

Karin instantly becomes a “rotten whore” to Petra. The only positive for Petra is that Karin’s leaving soon. I’ll grant that Karin was talked into her relationship with Petra, as it was “just fun” from her perspective. Although, since she apparently never intended to divorce Freddy, or she just changed her mind, she should have confided as much after she got serious with Petra.

Instead she built up a sort of parallel universe; Freddy and Petra? Clearly no happy future there. I can hardly wait to see how this ends up. Well, there won’t be any violence, but just about nothing else would surprise me.

Petra’s reduced to “I’ll do anything for you..I only exist for you…” But, the girl’s not buying “lonely; [you mean] without your whore?” After Petra spits in her face, she gives her money. I just wish we’d get out of that overdecorated bedroom. Guess not. She’s on the jungle-length shag carpet with a bottle and a phone.

“I’m so screwed up!” Right you are, Petra. She’s ruminating…then, miraculously, her daughter Gaby (Gabrielle) pops in. Petra has to tell her that Karin’s not coming. The girl tells her mom that she’s in love. But, in an odd parallel, it’s so far just an unrequited crush.

We learn that it’s Petra’s birthday; now at least there’s a reason for her latest fashion incarnation–and another wig. It’s Sidonie that’s come calling now. Petra’s reaction is to crush her vodka glass in her hand. After all, it was Sidonie who introduced her to Karin.

With the unintentional impact of a triggered booby-trap, Sidonie’s birthday present is a doll with Karin’s hair color, style, and, come to think of it, a similar doll face. Time to yell for Marlene. Then, not knowing the score–or shut-out so to speak–between Petra and Karin, Sidonie goes on to extoll Karin’s sudden success. All of which was jump-started by Petra, of course.

Actually, we learn that Sidonie does know the score. She’s kept up with Karin…then, ponder this news: Karin “might drop in.” A red herring? A violent denouement after all? I sense a slightly smug tone from Sidonie. Next party guest is Valerie.

The three guests are babbling on like a bunch of kids having a sleepover. Meanwhile, Petra is going nuts “you’re all so fake…a pack of dirty rats…parasites.” She’s right. When Sidonie explains that Petra’s fit is over Karin, Petra corrects them “Crazy? No, I love her as I’ve never loved anyone before.”

The phone rings, but it’s not Karin. Petra’s reduced to writhing on the floor, and wanting them to leave. She speaks of suicide. Later, her mom tells her about the day she was born. Petra admits that she wanted to possess Karin, not love her.

Karin calls. Everything has calmed down. And, surprisingly, Petra has a normal conversation with her; Karin’s off to Paris. Petra wishes her well. The double shocker is that Petra apologizes to Marlene; setting her “free.” Marlene actually packs up and splits. The end.

This was exhausting. In some respects The Tears is remarkable: the casting’s right on, the set (pretty much a million views of the bedroom–a whole world in itself), and, of course, the quintessential dramatic theme, love.

That bedroom pretty much serves as a character; its garish array of colors we can’t escape, particularly in the scenes near the end, where everyone wears an eye-popping acidic outfit. That’s not even touching on the mannequins here and there, like so many stiffs or body parts. Then the ever-changing facade Petra presents; she actually looks like a different person over and over again–new hair, new outfit, viola!

The Karin/Petra romance stands at the center of everything. It’s masterfully done, and very convincing. Both women are used by the other. Petra suffers greatly when they break up, Karin not at all. Tangibly, Karin can go back to her husband; emotionally, she’s waded into her romance with Petra, not gone off the high dive. So it’s relatively easy for her to cut her losses.

Fassbinder manages to tell a tale with raw emotional verisimilitude against a a lurid, near psychedelic background. A lucid dream. I haven’t even mentioned Marlene’s ghostly presence. She’s very much Petra’s shadow, literally, dressed in dark colors, trying to almost not exist. Yet she’s simultaneously an embodiment of Petra’s conscience.

She’s needed until Petra ceases to be needy. Petra spends most of her extra energy mistreating her for no reason. Petra loves to hate, so she needs to pretend to hate Marlene. Only at the very end do we see Petra accepting herself–and her situation–as is. Nothing to hate anymore.

I might have been more satisfied if things had ended with Petra’s long dressing down of her mother, daughter, and friend. That would seem more consistent and logical than the sudden enlightenment she gets by virtue of…soothing words from her mom. Fassbinder spends two hours setting up this slice of life, only to put it all back into one piece in the last few minutes.

I’m not saying the ending didn’t work, it just wasn’t the best ending. Another issue for me is that we get too much of the same thing; the first two parts–before and during Karin’s scenes–are just a bit too long. Considering the very limited horizon, though, the pacing is pretty good.

If someone had said, ‘hey, let’s make a movie about five women and a bed’ we’d think…that’s a scene, not a movie. It is just a scene, all right, and a very curious, very idiosyncratic movie. Flawed, but fascinating.

7.5 out of 10.

A Comedy Of Terrors, 1964. 8/10

Vincent Price and Peter Lorre are a team: an undertaker and his assistant (Waldo and Felix) in this campy horror fest. We also get Basil Rathbone as landlord John F. Black, plus Boris Karloff as Amos Hinchley.

That’s enough horror moguls to fill the books and crannies of a hundred haunted houses. Waldo’s wife is Amaryllis (Joyce Jameson); Karloff is her father. Maybe he should’ve named her Venus Fly Trap. That’s a girl’s name, I think. At any rate, the always suave Lorre has a crush on Jameson’s character–an obtuse love triangle if there ever was one.

The plot’s energized by a cash flow situation in the family mortuary business. In short, they need bodies. Sort of like Ed Gein. People like this want corpses so much, they make them, in house, so to speak. Got the picture?

As in a comedy horror picture. Sounds ludicrous, but these two genres have something in common; they work at suspension of disbelief, and the unnatural or absurd. Price is uniquely capable of showing several odd traits simultaneously. Slimy, ludicrous; so, then, dangerous, ruthless, sadistic. Macabre, but entertaining.

Start with a pretty ghoulish graveyard scene: Price and Lorre look on at a burial ceremony, bemused. In silent-era comedy fashion, the guys quickly wheel into action: opening the coffin, dumping the body, and then taking the coffin. The music has that zippy, jumpy quality that suits this sort of action.

It’s good this has a Victorian setting–that always adds a layer of authenticity. Next up–an argument at Waldo’s home. He offers Amos poison as “medicine” Amayrillas calls Waldo a “tosspot,” and ten other names of household items. She focuses on their failing business: “you drove [father’s] undertaking business into the ground!” Maybe so, but Waldo comes back with “where else?”

Better yet, when she talks about her father’s interest in “curious objects” he says that her dad “fathered one.” When Felix throws together a wonky coffin, Waldo shuns it “no one would be caught dead” in it. Anyway, the respectable Mr. Black happens by, looking for the rent. Waldo has 24 hrs. hours to pay up–or it’s the street.

Felix tells Amayrillas he feels bad for her, and generally dotes on her. Anyway, Waldo has a cunning business plan, which he describes to Felix. Waldo has it over Felix, as the underling has a sketchy past. So, the ghoulish plan plays on. They plan to do-in Mr. Phipps (Buddy Mason), an elderly acquaintance of Waldo’s. Onto Phipps’s haunted house-style mansion.

Skulking around in the place gets a bit tedious. Anyway, Waldo eventually strangles the dude: quite a scary corpse. Waldo relaxes in victory in the back of the hearse. Returning home, a maid from a neighbor’s comes to fetch his services: her employer is dead. Good opportunity for Waldo. Again, the corpse is spooky enough.

At the funeral parlor, the widow is missing. Desperate to take advantage of the arrangements he has in progress, Waldo hies off to the Phipps’s mansion to get her; the place is deserted. She’s sold everything and split to Boston and beyond. So, she stiffed him (!) For his fee. “The world is full with knaves and felons!”

The next dinner conversation is awful batty. Amos is now upset that he doesn’t get his “medicine.” Not a good time to get a blistering eviction notice from Mr. Black. “We shall kill two birds with one… pillow” comments Waldo.

Back to Black’s mansion (isn’t this the Phipps place?). This scene really drags. Ironically, when someone actually does something in this movie, it’s a lot less notable than when the characters are bantering, or we just see some macabre/absurd juxtaposition. Black is reading Shakespeare in bed–pretty much acting out Macbeth.

This is good stuff: running a sword though a partition behind which Felix is hiding; he nearly getting skewered. As I just pointed out, these touches work great. Meanwhile, Waldo’s able to sneak up on Black from behind. Obligingly, Black simply falls down, dead. Or so it seems. His servant tells the attending physician that Black is subject to cataleptic fits, and might just appear to be dead.

Anyway, he’ll do for a corpse/client. The two birds (eviction and Black) are now taken care of. Down in Black’s basement, though, the ‘corpse’ comes to life (more great sight gags). Both Waldo and Felix are flummoxed: but, thinking fast, Waldo actually tries to convince him that he’s dead. Again, Black collapses. Again, apparently dead.

The “stubborn crackpot” refuses to stay dead. All of this stuff is just what we bargained for: we know the situation is bizarre, so we want to wait and see how it plays out. Like an on-going joke with numerous punchlines. For insurance, so to speak, Waldo chains the coffin shut. The payoff, literally, comes in the form of the funeral ceremony.

Amaryllas song, of how “he is not dead, but sleepeth” is doubly apt, and obviously intentionally ironic. We are tantalized that it’s an open-coffin deal, meaning what we think that could mean. Almost miraculously, nothing weird happens.

Since he’s merely put in a masoleum, though, there’s a side-issue. They can’t recycle the coffin, as it would be missed. Plus, we hear Black–the undead it seems–wondering where the heck he is.

Whatever. Back home, the gang is swimming in filthy lucre, song, and dance. Amayrillas is getting cozy with Felix. Later, she asks Waldo, who isn’t as attentive, “am I so repulsive?” He: “That’s the word, yes.” Oh boy, the watchman at the cemetery hears you-know-who sounding off from the crypt.

This too is doubly funny, as the poor dude assumes that Black’s a ghost (“they [ghosts] usually wait until later,” and Black reverts to reciting from Hamlet. When he does pop out of the coffin, the watchman feints. Black goes forth. Will he seek vengeance on Waldo? That’s the next implicit set-up.

Well, Black grabs a stout ax, and… it’s a dark and stormy night. Waldo, awakened by a door slapped around by the wind, is genuinely and justifiably spooked. And then we see muddy footsteps going up the stairs…here’s some actual suspense. Satisfied that all is well, Waldo goes back to sleep on the couch.

But Black bursts in on Amaryllis, brandishing the ax. She feints. Waldo and Felix investigate the commotion. Black, still quoting Hamlet pursues them relentlessly “he’ll never die” laments Waldo. The denouement arrives when Waldo shoots his Shakespearean antagonist. Of course, Black doesn’t just die, and has time to recite “[that life] is a tale told by an idiot…” Certainly in this case.

Now things get truly macabre, as Amayrillas, oddly defending Black, and Felix, who’s passed out, threatens to turn in her husband. He strangles her, musing “who’s next?” Felix is, as he’s reviving. The two of them have a stupid swordfight. Looks like Felix is killed.

All the timing is inopportune here. A guy arrives to say that Black has been seeing out and about. Well, there he is, along with Amaryllis, dead on the floor. He freaks out, yelling that he’s going to the cops. Thoroughly exhausted, Waldo collapses at the base of the stairs.

Another brilliant bit of bad timing: Amos comes downstairs, and, taking pity on Waldo, gives him some “medicine.” Then Amos quaffs the rest of the poison. When Waldo comes around momentarily, his eyes bulge out decisively as he sees the bottle; ironically, of course, it’s the same one he’s been goading Amos with all along.

A final nice touch. The cat crawls onto Black’s body. After some mimicy nose twitching from Black, we fade to a black screen; and Black’s voice once more wondering “What place is this?”

With the exemption of a few patches of plot quicksand, this is very well done, and highly entertaining. Many scenes, some of which tumble into each other–basically the entire last part of the movie involving Black’s death, and its aftermath, are outstanding, very amusing, and not without a true edge of horror.

It gets even better once Black invades Waldo’s house. All of the running jokes: the poison/’medicine’ thing, and, especially, Black’s narcolepsy (coupled with the Shakespearean stuff) amplify and complement the latter scenes.

Granted, that if the viewer doesn’t have much familiarity with both Shakespeare and Poe, Black’s character is not going to make any sense. Rathbone pretty much carrys the last half of the movie. That brings us to casting; all four leads, or five, counting Jameson, are very well-suited to their roles.

It is too much of a stretch to imagine that Felix could be a plausible rival to Waldo. In fact, I’d turn Karloff into Felix, and Lorre into the graveyard guy. We don’t need the father-in-law character anyway, and Joe E. Brown doesn’t do much with a fairly important supporting role.

As I think I’ve let on, the humor really weaves this together. Some critics object that it’s too broad, too campy; the first graveyard scene for example, is too silly. But the one-liners and rejoinders coming from Waldo are usually good, some great (and not just the ones here quoted). Waldo, as noted, the Shakespeare motif perfectly suits both Black’s character and his forlorn situation.

With a slightly tighter script, and maybe juggling a character or two, this would be about perfect. As it is Comedy Of Terrors is a must see for Vincent Price fans, and ’60s horror fans in general. 8/10.