One Body Too Many is a 1944 comedy-mystery film starring Jack Haley as an insurance salesman who finds himself in the middle of several murders and Bela Lugosi (my favorite underused actor) as a much put-upon butler who may have a taste for poisoned coffee. When One Body too Many was made, Bela Lugosi was beginning his final career decline. In the early 1930’s, Bela had found himself consigned to low budget thrillers and some stage work. But the work did not pay well and when his son, Bela George Lugosi, was born in 1938, Bela had to borrow money from the Actor’s Fund to pay the hospital bills. Then suddenly, later in 1938, Bela got a surprise career boost. A theater owner played a Dracula and Frankenstein double feature and suddenly everybody was interested in Bela Lugosi again. Sadly, the boost did not last long. After only a few new starring roles, Bela was once again delegated to Poverty Row films. Bela suffered from severe, chronic pain from injuries received during his World War I military service. Over time, Bela used stronger and stronger medication to battle his pain. As Hollywood became aware of his growing dependency, the film offers dwindled. In One Body Too Many, Bela has only a few spoken lines. He is not really playing a butler so much as he is playing the “menacing Bela Lugosi as Dracula, pretending to be a butler”. Many of his later films seem in the same mode. Poor Bela was hired not to act but to bring some name value to a low, low, low budget film so the Poverty Row studio can rake in a few extra dollars. Just four years after One Body Too Many, Bela made his last “A” movie, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. It is a hilarious comedy, unfortunately not in the Public Domain, but it is also the beginning of the end for Bela Lugosi. Until his death in 1956, Bela was in fewer and fewer and more and more obscure films. To make a living, he became dependent on some stage roles, often productions of Dracula, a handful of television appearances, and making personal appearances in touring “spook shows”. He died of a heart attack at age 73 and was buried in one of his Dracula capes.
About the same time Bela Lugosi was receiving his short lived career boost, One Body Too Many star Jack Haley was playing what is probably his most famous role ever. Jack was an all-round star. He began his career headlining in vaudeville as a song-and-dance comedian. His “wide-eyed, good-natured expression” won him lots of supporting roles in some big name films. He also hosted his own radio show from 1937 to 1939. Then, in 1939, came a surprise opportunity. Song-and-dance comedian Buddy Ebsen had been hired to play the Tin Man in MGM’s The Wizard of Oz. But Buddy suffered an allergic reaction to his silver face makeup, nearly died, and had to withdraw from the film. Jack Haley was hired to replace Buddy as the Tin Man. The studio made changes to the makeup to prevent another catastrophe. But Jack had an entirely different reaction. Instead of lung problems like Buddy Ebsen, Jack got an eye infection from the makeup. Fortunately a little surgery prevented permanent eye damage and Jack was able to return to The Wizard of Oz after only four days and successfully portrayed the Tin Man, one of the best known and much loved characters in film history. For most of the 1940’s, Jack did musical and comedy films. But in 1947, Jack had a dispute with his studio and decided to retire from Hollywood. He started a new career in real estate although he did make guest appearances on television. Like Bela Lugosi, Jack Haley died of a heart attack. But while Bela died in 1956 at age 73, Jack died in 1979 at age 81.
One Body Too Many is a short movie that runs only one hour and fifteen minutes. It is a typical “old dark house” comedy with the typical collection of shifty and suspicious characters, the typical mysterious murders, and the typical spooky mansion with the typical scary secret passageways. It is just all round typical. Bela Lugosi is way underused as the typical possibly murderous butler. He has a handful of lines and one great eye roll and that’s about it. Jack Haley fares a lot better as the innocent insurance salesman who unknowingly interrupts the reading of a will to sell insurance to the deceased. Jack quickly finds himself playing guard for one of the lovely heirs (actress Jean Parker as forgettable damsel in distress Carol) and eventually ends up as the prime suspect in a series of mysterious murders. Jack has some good scenes as the rather cowardly hero (Bob Hope, Lou Costello, and Mantan Moreland all do the cowardly hero much better but Jack is still pretty funny). He has a hilarious sequence where he ends up lost in the secret passageways fresh from his bath and wearing only a skimpy towel. Even funnier is when he looses the towel all together.
One Body Too Many is in black and white and beginning to show its age. The Internet Archive has several versions available to watch online or download completely FREE but all the versions show about the same amount of age and damage. One Body Too Many is blurry and dark. In some places, especially when characters are wandering around in dark passageways at night, it is almost too dark to see anything at all. There are also some scratches and several places where there are very bright flashes of triangular shaped light (it looked almost like a series of white ► shapes). Usually this kind of blurriness, darkness, and damage do not distract from my enjoyment of the film but those flashes were shocking and one scene in particular towards the end was so dark that I thought the film had stopped. Still, there are some very funny moments, Jack Haley is very good, and it is always nice to see Bela Lugosi. Video quality may have suffered with time but audio quality is pretty good. The Internet Archive has five versions, all look about the same although two versions are a bit “blacker” than the others. One version also has modern comedy skits added on as part of the show Weirdness Really Bad Movie. Sorry, but I really hate those comedy skits (I have seen similar on other movies) so I just skipped right over them and went straight to the good part: One Body Too Many.