Monday, April 29, 2024

On the Other End of the Continuum, We Have The Comedy of Terrors

The Comedy of Terrors
. Dir. Jacques Tourneur. Perf. Peter Lorre, Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Joyce Jameson, Joe E. Brown, and Basil Rathbone. 1963. Blu-Ray. Kl Studio Classics, 2021.

We just saw how Barry uses Shakespeare to great effect, finding parallels between Barry's development and Macbeth's and employing those to provide a deeper understanding of both (for which, q.v.). Barry's use of Macbeth was moving, it was meaningful, and it wasn't just tacked on in a "Well, they're actors, so let's throw some Shakespeare in here" way.

By way of contrast, let's look at the 1963 film The Comedy of Terrors. The title falls into Kenneth Rothwell's "Parasitical" category (here's more on Rothwell's system of classification), making a pun on a Shakespeare play about which is has nothing to do.

But, interestingly enough, it bypasses Comedy of Errors only to steer straight into Macbeth.

In the film, the great Vincent Price plays Trumbull, a drunken, down-on-his-luck funeral home director who is aided Felix Gillie, played by the great Peter Lorre, whom he keeps by his side by blackmailing him. Trumbull is brutally insulting to his wife, Amaryllis, with whom Gillie has fallen in love.

Trumbull owes Mr. Black (played by the great Basil Rathbone) a year's rent, and he can't come up with the cash—even through his usual means of raising money when times are bad: Killing people and then offering their bereaved relatives his services as a funeral director.

This leads us to the center of the plot. If Trumbull and Gillie manage to kill Mr. Black, they'll not only be able to charge Mr. Black's relatives for burying him, they will also no longer have to worry about the loan.

With that plot in mind, here are the relevant Shakespeare scenes. In the first part of the clip below, Gillie breaks into Mr. Black's house only to find him wide awake and reading Macbeth. Gillie narrowly avoids a Poloniusesque end and then learns that Mr. Black has died from the shock of finding Gillie in his room.

But it's not as simple as that. It turns out that Mr. Black suffers from catalepsy, making him seem to be dead when that's far from the case.

In the second part of the clip below, Mr. Black has been safely interred—only to recover and to be released by a gravedigger who could take up the role in Hamlet with no questions asked.

The next clip is the culmination of the film. A Macbeth-spouting Mr. Black seeks vengeance on the men who dared to bury him when he wasn't even dead. And you really have to see it for yourself: 

Barry gave us a very meaningful "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" speech. The Comedy of Terrors gives us a farcical version. They're at two ends of a very long continuum.

Note: For teachers and others who want only that speech, there's a bonus clip at the end of this post with just that.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the film from
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Bonus!  Just the "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" part of the film:

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Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2039 (and into perpetuity thereafter) by Keith Jones.

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