Monday, October 25, 2010

Halloween Roundup, Instant Play Edition #1: I Bury the Living (1958)

There is a big man at the center of I Bury the Living: Richard Boone, with his beefy frame and heavy features reminding me of Victor Mature, but without a trace of vanity. Here, he's a small-city department store executive--part of a group that takes turns managing the local cemetery--but this civic quirkiness is nothing: the whole picture's odd, from Boone squeezed into a business suit to the giant map of the cemetery itself, dotted with little pins (white if the owner is alive, black when they die), most of the picture set in the dingy little shed with the map and a dying gray light. No wonder, reluctantly drawn to this duty, that Boone starts to believe that, if he puts a black pin on the plot of someone still alive, they die--and he believes this because they do.

It's a story as contrived as any Twilight Zone contraption; but the director (Albert Band, director, writer, producer of many B movies) forces it to work, laying down thick expressionistic bricks, a solid job that keeps us in that dingy room at the cemetery where the map hangs, large and pulsing, almost alive, the pins gigantic in closeup, spread out on a Salvador Dali plain--while the room itself shrinks, fills with fog and smoke and shadow, as though the 1920s had never left the screen.

And Boone handles himself well, wrestling some real panic out of his bulk, a big man undone by, as he puts it, a strange feeling he has carried with him all his life, that he is reliving things--or making them happen. The resolution is at first more Hardy Boys than Jung, but the sense of a ghost-world lingers, as Boone, his overcoat lost, wanders off, speaking softly: "I think I can find it myself."

I've adapted this from an entry in another of my blogs, The Constant Viewer.

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