A disastrous attempt at a black comedy that plays like an Edgar Allan Poe story transformed into a idiotic comic strip, Arnold opens with one of the strangest scenes in all of mainstream ’70s cinema. As guests stand nearby to witness the ceremony, sexy young blonde Karen (Stella Stevens) weds wealthy older man Lord Arnold Dwellyn (Norman Stuart), who happens to be propped up inside a coffin because he’s dead. Even within the realm of would-be outrageous comedy, this scene makes absolutely zero sense. Nonetheless, the filmmakers soldier on by presenting a twisty plot that’s predicated upon the exacting demands of Arnold’s will. Karen gets Arnold’s money so long as she lives under the same roof as his corpse for the rest of her life. Yet Karen has other ideas—she’s conspiring with Arnold’s craven son, Robert (Roddy McDowall), with whom she’s romantically involved. When Robert is killed under mysterious circumstances, Karen begins to suspect that Arnold made arrangements before his death to knock off relatives who covet his money.
The notion of a killer operating from beyond the grave should be exciting, but in the hands of the hacks behind Arnold, it’s just goofy. Arnold “communicates” via prerecorded cassette tapes, but the tapes contain such specific dialogue that it’s as if Arnold somehow knew exactly what each of his friends and relatives would do and say during every minute of every day. Similarly, the traps that the killer sets for victims are contingent upon people taking particular actions at particular times. Despite featuring many colorful big-screen veterans (other cast members include Victor Buono, Bernard Fox, Farley Granger, and Elsa Lanchester), Arnold is a chore to get through. The lighting is flat, the music is ghastly, the sets are flimsy, and Stevens gives an embarrassingly bad leading performance. Worst of all, Arnold is timid. Had the folks at Bing Crosby Productions (yes, really!) bothered to contrive a storytelling style as crass as the film’s underlying premise, Arnold might have become a bad-cinema milestone. As is, it’s just tacky.