Sunday, July 11, 2010

Arsenic and Old Lace

Since it is on TCM today, I decided to rerun my article about this great classic!

This is a screwball comedy for the ages. Hilarious to this day. Laser quick dialogue, over-the-top performances, wonderful direction and the absolutely impeccable timing of the great Cary Grant. What more could one ask for in a movie?

This film is based upon a very successful Broadway show. The producers of Arsenic and Old Lace perfected a movie making equation that is still being copied today. They hired one of America's top directors, Frank Capra. They added the perfect comedic skills of superstar Cary Grant. Joining them were red-hot script adapting brothers Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein. Then the two women who perfected the Brewster sister's characters on Broadway, Josephine Hull and Jean Adair, join the cast. Add fantastic character actors like Peter Lorre, Jack Carson and John Alexander. Put all these things together and the result is a classic dark comedy. I challenge anyone to watch this film and not have a good time. It is impossible!

The plot follows Mortimer Brewster, portrayed by Cary Grant, as he returns to see his aunts. He is there to inform them he is getting married. Since he is a celebrity who has sworn to "never marry" the press is hot on his tail. Upon arriving at his aunt's home he finds that they have been murdering men to whom they rent their spare room. The women feel they are "ending the loneliness of these poor old men". He is stalling the bride while attempting to learn more about these murders. Soon the police are involved, the crazy family members are running about, the brother who has escaped from jail arrives and the sisters are planning a new murder. The perfect script for a comedy!

As I have been working on this blog I have viewed some films for the first time in years. One thing has become very clear. Cary Grant is a comedic genius. I wrote about his timing in an earlier blog 'His Girl Friday'. And seeing Arsenic and Old Lace again just confirms my belief. Other film funny men receive more credit today, but his timing, use of facial expression and body movements and choice of scripts has caused me to search out all of his films.

Director Frank Capra is one of America's greatest. His films include this one, along with 'It Happened One Night', 'You can't Take it with You', 'Mr. Smith goes to Washington', 'Mr. Deeds goes to Town', and Christmas classic 'It's a Wonderful Life'. If you have the opportunity to see any of these films - Take It! They are fantastic.

I don't know how to explain why the story of two senior citizens who murder men who rent a room is funny, but it is. Enjoy Arsenic and Old Lace.

Filmed in 1941, but released in 1944, directed by Frank Capra, written by Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein, starring Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Raymond Massey, Josephine Hull and Jean Adair. The part played by Cary Grant was originally offered to both Ronald Reagan and Jack Benny. To our benefit, both turned it down.

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