THE BOOTLEG FILES: ARNOLD (1973) Image

BOOTLEG FILES 288: “Arnold” (1973 dark comedy with Stella Stevens and Roddy McDowall).

LAST SEEN: Available on Google Video

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: In 1985, from the now-defunct Lightning Video.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Unavailable for commercial release.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Not in the near future.

I first saw the film “Arnold” back in 1973 during its theatrical release. I was only eight years old, and I wanted to see the film because it was heavily advertised on television as being a goofy, wacky comedy. But in the theater, I remember being hugely disappointed – the film was weird, dark, and not very funny. Since then, I learned never to believe anything you see in movie advertisements.

I did not see “Arnold” again until this past week, when I located the film in an unauthorized upload at Google Video. Remarkably, I remembered most of the film – not bad, considering I haven’t thought about the film in 36 years. However, my opinion of “Arnold” has not changed since I first beheld it through eight-year-old eyes: it is a weird, dark, and not very funny comedy.

The problem with “Arnold” is a poor foundation on which nothing good could possibly be constructed. The concept is ridiculous, even by movie standards: a rich dead man is married to a sexy woman. Yes, that’s right – a corpse gets hitched.

“Arnold” takes place in an English village where the coffin of the late Lord Arnold Dwellyn is led in a wedding procession. It seems the local vicar (Victor Buono, hamming away with unbridled glee) has agreed to wed Arnold to a hot chili mama named Karen (Stella Stevens). This doesn’t sit well with the wedding party, including Arnold’s widow (Shani Wallis), his younger brother (Roddy McDowall), his doting sister (Elsa Lanchester), or his lawyer-cousin (Patric Knowles). It is hard to read the reaction of Arnold’s cryptic Indian servant (Jamie Farr, buried in greasepaint). Arnold’s voice is heard in a recording played from a tape deck in his casket – incredibly, he is able to answer the vicar’s call of “Do you take this woman?” without being cued. (Though it is not explained how he can have both a widow and a new bride.)

During the wedding reception, another Arnold-voiced tape plays from the casket. This is reading of the will, which provides Karen with the bulk of Arnold’s fortune, provided she remains near Arnold’s casket for the rest of her life. Karen is spared having to consummate the marriage, thankfully. The rest of Arnold’s family receives relatively small bequeaths, though his brother gets nothing. When the various family members react to the recording, Arnold’s voice is heard commenting on their responses, thus creating a conversation between the living and dead.

The remainder of the film finds mysterious tapes of Arnold’s voice being delivered to his stately manor. He appears to have pre-recorded warnings to his heirs, predicting they would react in greedy anger at the turn of events. But even more peculiar, everyone connected to Arnold starts to die in grotesque and violent ways.

Arnold’s widow, who inherits control of a cosmetics company, tries one of the facial creams, but it is laced with a chemical that fatally disfigures her. His brother commandeers one of Arnold’s red velvet suits, though once he has it on the garment constricts on him, crushing him to the point that he vomits his guts out. Arnold’s lawyer-cousin takes liberty with the dead man’s cognac, but the drink is drugged and the man is dumped in a garbage compactor by an unknown person. The Indian servant eavesdrops on a conversation between Karen and a handsome attorney (Farley Granger, quite a stranger on this train), but when he sticks his head through an alcove to hear the conversation better, he is decapitated. Karen and her new man enjoy a steamy shower, but the walls of the shower unexpectedly move in on them, squashing them to death.

So who’s responsible? Why, it is Arnold’s sister. But she is just as greedy as the rest of them. When she accidentally discovers where Arnold has hidden his cash – within a secret chamber of the family mausoleum – she trips a mechanism that plays a tape where Arnold denounces her avarice while sardonically offering that they will stay together forever. And with that, the secret wall of the hidden vault shuts behind her, entombing her alive.

Funny? Yeah…as a funeral.

“Arnold” was produced by Bing Crosby Productions. By the 1970s, old Bing was no longer starring in films, but he put his money up for the creation of low-budget flicks, most notably “Walking Tall.” Georg Fenady, the “Arnold” director, also helmed another Crosby-produced film released in 1973, “Terror in the Wax Museum.” Fenady specialized in directing TV shows and those two productions were the extent of his motion picture output. However, as his TV roots clearly show, “Arnold” has the look of a cheaply and quickly made TV movie, complete with a B-list cast overplaying their roles.

As I stated earlier, “Arnold” was heavily advertised on television by its distributor, Cinerama Releasing. But unpleasant word-of-mouth and poor reviews killed the film at the box office, and it quickly disappeared. (And, for the matter, so have many of the films released by the company – a surprisingly high number of them have never been released on DVD.) “Arnold” turned up again in 1985 on VHS video courtesy of Lightning Video. That company went out of business and “Arnold” disappeared again.

However, the full film can be seen in an unauthorized presentation on Google Video via something called “The Midnight Movie,” which I believe was a public access TV show (I could be wrong – the web site for this production is unclear where or when it was broadcast). Since a DVD release doesn’t seem likely, given the obscurity and mediocrity of the film, this might be the only way to see “Arnold” for the foreseeable future.

But really, you shouldn’t bother with “Arnold” – good life is too short to be wasted on bad movies about dead men.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free s***s and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg videos and DVDs, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg videos is perfectly legal. Go figure!

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  1. “Arnold’s widow, who inherits control of a cosmetics company,”

    No,as i recall she inherits only one share, the rest go to the Stella Stevens character. As for your review, it is surprisingly negative. Arnold, while no classic, is a pretty good black comedy that deserves its own DVD release.

  2. chance says:

    I totally remember seeing this movie!!!!! As a matter of fact, Ive been looking for it forever. I was just a kid when I saw it. My babysitter took me to it. Im glad to know you found it on line. Im gonna look for it now.

  3. Marty Langford says:

    It may not mean much over the pond but if memory serves correctly this movie was set in a Welsh village, not English – sigh,I know,all the same to most of you – but not to me. I saw this in Vancouver mid-70’s and it was memorable for the ‘constricting suit’. The rare Welsh setting, for a Hollywood movie of any type, is also what made it notable, with some characteristic Welsh dialogue by actors with proper Welsh accents. These moments made me laugh amid the usual nonsensical Hollywood idea of Welsh village life.

  4. DJ says:

    Couldn’t be more wrong. Black Comedy that had some genuine spookiness mixed in with comedy. Remember the movie well and wish I could get a copy of it but I couldn’t disagree more with your assessment of the movie.

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