US / 1958
Low-budget films trade in a certain breed of claustrophobia. The single-digit casts, the cramped sets, the largely stationary cameras capturing everyone’s soul on flat, static celluloid; the shining gristle of Hollywood is scraped away, the dull gray bone beneath exposed. I BURY THE LIVING largely focuses on a lonely man in a small room. The man is slate-jawed Richard Boone, and the room is the “cottage” office of the cemetery chairman, a position Boone’s character is forced to adopt through familial and professional obligation and one that slowly consumes his mind like a loamy cancer when he becomes obsessed that through the use of a map charting the property’s funeral plots and the white and black pins denoting their “occupied” or “unoccupied” status, he has the power to control the forces of life and death. It’s a heady concept rich with philosophical potential, but director Albert Band and scripter Louis Garfinkle hone their focus in on the singular psychological impact that this notion has upon Boone’s hero. Workaholics will find much in him to sympathize with: going to the office when off the clock, staying at irregular hours, pouring over the same scales and figures until it all becomes monochromatic mush. There are echoes of doom and foreboding from great literary works like William Freyer Harvey’s “August Heat” and W. W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw,” moments when Boone becomes utterly convinced that he’s seen his death marker chiseled before him in his dreams and that switching the color of the pins will restore life where it was senselessly taken away. Watching this film in the isolated darkness of your home might convince you of a unsettling notion or two. Such are the thoughts of lonely people in small rooms.