BODY DISAPPEARS, THE(director: D. Ross Lederman; screenwriters: Scott Darling/ Erna Lazarus; cinematographer: Allen G. Siegler; editor: Frederick Richards; cast: Jeffrey Lynn (Peter DeHaven), Jane Wyman (Lynn Shotesbury), Edward Everett Horton (Professor Reginald X. Shotesbury), Margerite Chapman (Christine Lunceford), Willie Best (Willie), Herbert Anderson (“Doc”Appleby), Craig Stevens (Robert Struck), Charles Halton (Professor Moggs); Runtime: 72; Warner; 1941)
“A delightful screwball comedy…”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A delightful screwball comedy, making use of sci-fi gimmicks to bolster its story. The independently wealthy and handsome Peter DeHaven (Jeffrey Lynn) is getting married tomorrow, but is celebrating tonight with his friends at his bachelor’s party when he gets so drunk that he passes out. Peter is a practical joker, giving his friends exploding cigars and shaking hands with them as he gives them electric shocks. So to get even with him they take him to the college medical building, where his friend “Doc” Appleby (Anderson) is a student and they place him on the dissecting table to give him a little scare and teach him a lesson. But problems arise when an eccentric Professor Shotsbury (Edward Everett Horton), who needs a dead body upon which to test his new life-restoring serum, arrives with his black servant, Willie (Willie Best), who is to take the supposed dead body needed for experimental purposes back to the professor’s house. Willie plays the role with rolling eyeballs and other gestures that smack of a stereotyped racism that might be viewed as upsetting to many of today’s African-Americans.

When Peter is invisible and the daffy professor can’t restore the dead body he is upset, but he puts himself to work on an antidote. The professor’s very attractive daughter, Lynn Shotesbury (Jane Wyman-she had recently married fellow actor Ronald Reagan), notices in the newspaper that a Peter DeHaven is reported missing and when she finds out what her father did and talks to the invisible man, she realizes that this indeed is Peter DeHaven. So Lynn rushes Peter back to his apartment to get ready for his wedding but he first stops off at his soon-to-be bride’s place, Christine Lunceford (Chapman). She is disappointed that the wedding had to be called off because of his disappearance but before Peter could explain to her what happened the one she really loves, Robert Struck (Craig Stevens), who came by the bachelor’s party last night to punch Peter, kisses her; and, since Peter is invisible and they don’t know that he is in the room, she proceeds to tell Robert how it is very important for her to marry Peter for financial reasons, even though she doesn’t love him. A detective comes in to arrest Robert for the disappearance of Peter.

All the comedy comes because of the invisibility and mix-ups, and the zany comic routines between the nutty professor and his “stereotyped” servant. During the course of the film all of the following things happen: the professor is brought to a loony bin, a trial takes place (the film is shown via flashbacks from the trial), and the ultimate in screwball comedy — a car is driven by an invisible driver being chased by a motorcycle cop.

The funniest one-liners came from Willie: When asked to participate in the experiment by the professor, who tells him he could be the first human to be brought back to life by the serum, Willie says: “Why can’t I be the second?” When Willie sees the invisible man, he exclaims: “Well, cut off my legs and call me shorty.”

This 72-minute film is the kind of old-fashioned comedy that can cheer you up with a few laughs if you are down, or if you are in a silly mood make you feel even sillier.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”