Friday, January 4, 2013
Film Flick: Arsenic and Old Lace
Mortimer Brewster, author of a best-selling book blasting marriage, thinks the last laugh must be on him when he falls for the proverbial and literal girl next door. The hilarity is just beginning though, for the film Arsenic and Old Lace. Marriage beckons, but Mortimer stops in to announce his big news to the elderly aunts who raised him and his loony uncle. Insanity appears to run deep in the Brewster family however, when he discovers his aunts have a hobby that's resulted in nine bodies buried the cellar! And the deaths just seem to keep piling up once Mortimer's fugitive brother (who's uncanny resemblance to Boris Karloff becomes a running joke) and his lackey-of-a-surgeon drop in. Mortimer's got his hands full trying to keep a new marriage afloat, his family secret safe, and stop his own murder from happening.
Frank Capera attempts to work his usual magic in turning hit Broadway play, Arsenic and Old Lace, into a hit for the silver screen. And like his hapless hero, he succeeds- sort of. The film never quite gets away from feeling like a play, even despite a few added extra scenes that take place beyond the Brewster family home. Lead actor Cary Grant, normally a consumate comedian, seems a little off his game here too. He still manages to be funny, if a bit stiff, but it is the rest of the cast- Brewster siblings (Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, and John Alexander), and the brother and his friend (Raymond Massey and Peter Lorre)- that provide the real laughs. Although there are one or two over-played bit that can make the film drag a bit, for the most part the viewer can expect the slapstick and zany hi-jinks to provide some good laughs.
If today this comedy might seem a bit hokey or tame, no one can deny that the film's heart-filled with the oft mocked "Capra-corn"- was in the right place. Made during World War Two, this film was shown to the men fighting overseas before being released domestically, and Grant also donated his entire salary from this film to help the war efforts. Another heart-warming tidbit of trivia about Arsenic and Old Lace? Some twenty years before the filming, Jean Adair had helped nurse sick vaudeville actor Archie Leech- and Archie Leech, for those not in the know, became the man better known as Cary Grant. What could be better than a movie with friends? Find out for yourself when you watch Arsenic and Old Lace.