The Body Disappears (1941)

The Body Disappears (1941)‘You’ve given me a great idea, William. We’ve got to go out and get ourselves a dead body.’

A young man about town sleeping off a drunk after his bachelor party is left in a college dissecting room by his prankster friends. Assuming that he is a corpse, a notorious faculty professor kidnaps him for use in his strange experiments in resurrecting the dead. Unfortunately, the injection of the scientist’s special serum turns the unlucky bridegroom invisible instead, somewhat interfering with his impending nuptials. Further complications ensue when test subject Charlie the monkey also begins to vanish…

Half-baked and half-hearted response to Universal Studio’s ‘Invisible Woman’ (1941) from the crew over at Warner Brothers, focusing on the activities of scatter-brained Professor Shotesbury (Edward Everett Horton) and their (allegedly) hilarious consequences. His attempts to raise the dead may be a resounding failure, but he manages to invent invisibility instead after treating the passed-out Peter DeHaven (Jeffrey Lynn) on the eve of his wedding to socialite Christine Lunceford (Marguerite Chapman). Predictable shenanigans ensure; comic ones involving Horton, his test subject monkey and black chauffeur Willie (Willie Best), and romantic ones involving Lynn and Horton’s pretty daughter Joan (Jane Wyman).

The Body Disappears (1941)

‘With a hat like that, I’d want to be invisible too…’

Unfortunately, the film is the very essence of a standard comedy product of its time, with events, gags and pratfalls developing upon completely obvious lines. Director D Ross Lederman keeps things moving at a decent clip, and Horton is always a pleasure to watch, but the whole project has ‘second rate’ stamped all the way through it. Even the SFX are a bit tatty by the standards of the time. lt’s also not particularly nice to see black actor Best wheeled out to do his usual ‘pop-eyed, fear-ridden, comedy servant’ routine. It does grate somewhat in these more enlightened times.

Matters aren’t really helped by Lynn’s rather bland performance, either. He had the looks of a leading man but little of the charisma and, by this point, his career was already fading. White-knight supporting roles in pictures like ‘Four Daughters’ (1938) and ‘The Roaring Twenties (1939) had seen him effortlessly eclipsed by such wonderful performers as John Garfield, Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains and Jimmy Cagney. Obviously, it would take a strong screen presence to go up against those guys, but even in the lead of a picture like bizarre gangster-comedy-musical ‘It All Came True’ (1940) with a pre-stardom Bogart in support, he failed to make much of an impression. Mind you, probably the greatest actor in the world would have struggled to save a picture that featured featuring singing old grannies.

The Body Disappears (1941)

‘Look me in the eye and tell me that…’

Co-star Wyman was heading in the opposite direction, slowly but surely breaking out of b-movie hell via roles opposite Edward G Robinson – ‘Larceny Inc.’ (1942) and Jack Carson – ‘Make Your Own Bed’ (1944). A year later, Jack Warner loaned her out for a role rejected by Jean Arthur in a movie that even home-studio Paramount confidently expected to be a box-office flop. The film? Billy Wilder’s multiple-Oscar-winning ‘The Lost Weekend’ (1946).

It wasn’t a million miles from that classic to Wyman’s own Academy Award for best leading actress in ‘Johnny Belinda’ (1949). Of course, she’s probably just as famous these days for being the first wife of future U.S. President Ronald Reagan, although an almost decade long stint as matriarch Angela Channing on TV soap opera ‘Falcon Crest’ brought her back to the notice of audiences in the 1980s.

Director Lederman was a typical journeyman of the studio era; working on entries in popular film series programmers like ‘The Lone Wolf’, ‘Boston Blackie’ and ‘The Whistler.’ Other projects included ‘Racketeers of The Range’ (1939), ‘Moonlight On The Prairie’ (1935) and ‘Rusty Rides Alone’ (1933). He was also behind the megaphone for the failed attempt to pit Olympic athlete Glen Morris against Johnny Weismuller at the box office with ‘Tarzan’s Revenge’ (1938). Scriptwriter Scott Darling went on to work on Universal’s slightly disappointing ‘The Ghost of Frankenstein’ (1942) and some of the Monogram Studios’ ‘Charlie Chan’ pictures that starred Sidney Toler.

Horton and Wyman try their best to get something out of a limp and woefully predictable script, but this one’s pretty much dead on arrival.

2 thoughts on “The Body Disappears (1941)

  1. The Body Disappears – scifist 2.0

    • Thanks for the quote! Yes, the wheels of justice turned fast in the Golden Age of Hollywood! It’s always makes me smile when cases come up for a trial in a matter of days (or hours!) rather than months. I’ll admit I do find ‘invisible man’ comedies a bit tiresome… I slogged through an international co-production called ‘Mr SuperInvisible’ from 1970 the other day starring Disney stalwart Dean Jones and I found it very hard going indeed. And working up the energy to do a blog about it… well, that’s even harder. Very impressed with your website and article by the way – very professional and well-researched. Makes my little site look a bit tatty I must say… keep meaning to do a refresh but never seem to get the time!

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