Sunday 11 March 2007

I Bury the Living (1958) Albert Band

Just as Richard Boone was becoming a major name playing professional gunfighter Paladin on Have Gun - Will Travel, he took the lead in an intriguing Albert Band psychological horror flick called I Bury the Living. He's Bob Kraft and he's been unwillingly appointed as the chairman of the Immortal Hills cemetery. The title comes in when he plays with the map on the wall of the cemetery office, that marks all the occupied plots and all those that have been paid for. He quickly discovers that every time he puts a black pin into the map, the owner of the plot dies.

This is really a huge opportunity for some lurid overacting and melodrama, but to the credit of everyone involved that doesn't happen. This is a careful character study of a man who believes he's acquired a power that he didn't want to start with and that he doesn't want now. The progression from accidentally using the wrong coloured pins to selecting a person at random to trying someone who couldn't possibly die within the day and onwards is superbly managed.

It's so easy to suggest, 'Hey, just don't do it any more and you have nothing to worry about,' but it's not as simple as that. It's about Kraft trying to prove to himself and others trying to prove to him that the power doesn't exist In the end he finds he has to stick black pins in the map through majority rule, against his own wishes, but of course the film isn't even about the pins. They're just a tiny MacGuffin just like the power of death over life itself. What the film is really about is what that power does to the man who believes he has it and what it does to those others who believe that he has it over them.

There are a few hallucinatory special effects and a few great power zooms but they're hardly out of place in such a bizarre film. Mostly there's just a lot of coarse but very appropriate acting and a plot that goes exactly where it should go. My good wife and I sat here enthralled in the whole thing, throwing out the next point the plot should go to and waiting for it to happen. Sometimes there was a deliciously long wait but I Bury the Living always obliged our wishes. This was unexpectedly delightful: thank you, TCM Underground!

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