Director – Georg Fenady, Screenplay – Jameson Brewer & John Fenton Murray, Producer – Andrew J. Fenady, Photography – William Jurgensen, Music – George Duning, Visual Effects – Joe Mercurio, Art Direction – Monty Elliott. Production Company – Fenady Associates/Bing Crosby Productions Inc..
Stella Stevens (Karen), Roddy McDowall (Robert Dwellyn), Elsa Lanchester (Hester Dwellyn), Shani Wallis (Jocelyn Dwellyn), Farley Granger (Evan Lyons), Bernard Fox (Constable Henry Hooke), Patric Knowles (Douglas Whitehead), Norman Stuart (Lord Arnold Dwellyn), John McGiver (Governor), Jamie Farr (Dybbi), Ben Wright (Jonesy), Wanda Bailey (Flo), Victor Buono (Minister)
In Wales, Lord Arnold Dwellyn has died. As per the “til death do us part” part of his wedding vows, this means he is his no longer legally tied to his wife Jocelyn and is free to marry his mistress Karen. Karen marries Arnold’s corpse in a ceremony. Back at the mansion afterwards, the will is read and Arnold reveals that he has left his fortune hidden somewhere in the house. He regards all the relatives as greedy and so everything is left to Karen with the stipulation that his body remain in the house to be with her. Arnold’s coffin has also been outfitted with a tape recorder and messages are left to be played. The messages prove perceptive of how backstabbing and double-crossing the relatives and everyone around the house, including Karen, are. Not long after the messages are played, horrible deaths have been engineered for the recipients.
The Old Dark House thriller is a genre that began on Broadway in the 1920s. Soon after, various of the plays were adapted to film with hits like The Bat (1926) and The Cat and the Canary (1927), among others. Most of these would feature various parties skulking around a big old mansion as they were eliminated by a masked figure. The fad was given a comedy emphasis in the 1940s beginning with the sound remake of The Cat and the Canary (1939) but the genre died away by the end of the decade. (For more detail see Old Dark House Thrillers). There were occasional stragglers since then, including several comedy efforts during the 1960s Anglo-horror cycle with the likes of The Old Dark House (1963), The Horror of It All (1964) and The House in Nightmare Park (1973). Arnold feels as though it is trying to jump aboard this British horror trend – the film is notedly set in Wales even though it is US-shot, while some of the cast occasionally take the time to maintain British and Welsh accents.
Arnold has a great opening. It takes the point-of-view of a duo of gravediggers preparing for a funeral as a party arrives at the chapel (a very obvious studio-bound graveyard set) only for them to realise that the funeral and wedding party has gotten mixed up before we enter the chapel to find the minister is marrying Stella Stevens to a corpse propped up in a coffin. The whole film proceeds out from this one joke with much humour playing off “till death do we part” and the piqued wife who finds herself dumped by the corpse.
Thereafter the action moves to the mansion and a standard variant on the plot of The Cat and the Canary with somebody bumping off the relatives, all of whom are shown throughout the course of the story to be venal and backstabbing. As though having fired off its best scene first, the rest of the humour becomes very broad. There are some occasionally entertaining despatches offered up for the various cast members – the most amusing of which is when Roddy McDowall puts on one of Arnold’s suits only to get strangled by it.
The film certainly has a great cast including Stella Stevens as the newlywed wife; Roddy McDowall as a relative; Elsa Lanchester, the former Bride of Frankenstein (1935) as Arnold’s sister; Farley Granger, best known for his work with Alfred Hitchcock, as the ex-wife’s boyfriend; Jamie Farr, later famous as Klinger in tv’s M.A.S.H. (1972-83), unrecognisable as a mute manservant; and Victor Buono, known for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and as King Tut in tv’s Batman (1966-8), as the minister.
The film was directed by Georg Fenady who worked regularly as a tv director between the 1960s and 90s. His one other theatrical film was the horror film Terror in the Wax Museum (1973). Georg and his brother Andrew J. Fenady were tv producers, known as creators of the show The Rebel (1959-61) and producers of Branded (1965-6). Andrew Fenady also dabbled in producing several genre tv movies with Black Noon (1971), The Woman Hunter (1972) and The Stranger (1973). The film is co-produced by Bing Crosby Productions, a company set up by the singer that had a surprising number of genre credits during this era including Willard (1971), W (1974) and The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975), as well as teaming with the Fenadys for Arnold, The Stranger and Terror in the Wax Museum.
Full film available here