Arsenic and Old Lace
The 30's and 40's were defined by the madcap screwball comedies of Frank Capra and Cary Grant. Capra brought us It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Go to Town and You Can't Take it With You, while Cary Grant was lighting up the screen in Bringing Up Baby and Holiday. They teamed in 1941 to make a big screen version of the Broadway play, Arsenic and Old Lace, and it has become known as one of the best dark comedies in the history of cinema.
Grant plays Mortimer Brewster a writer and critic with a crazy family. When he returns to introduce his new wife, Elaine (Priscilla Lane) to the family, he discovers a dead body in the window seat. He thinks it is the handy work of Teddy, who insists he is Teddy Roosevelt and has started digging the Panama Canal in the basement. However, Mortimer is horrified to discover that his kindly Aunts Martha (Jean Adair) and Abby (Josephine Hull) have been poisoning lonely old men to take away the pain of their desolate lives. Since he thinks they are victims of yellow fever, Teddy buries them in the cellar.
Mortimer wants to put the blame on Teddy and get him committed to a sanitarium, but his plan is thrown for a loop when his long lost brother, Jonathan (Raymond Massey), and his sidekick, Dr. Einstein (Peter Lorre), have shown up so Jonathan can settle an old score with Mortimer. Jonathan is a psychotic killer who has undergone plastic surgery to conceal his identity. He plans on dumping the body of his latest killer in the basement, but its getting pretty full done there.
Will Mortimer be able to keep the horrible truths about his family away from his new wife? Will Jonathan kill Mortimer? Will the kindly old Aunts kill again?
The best performances belong to Peter Lorre, who does a brilliant send up of his image as the mysterious, menacing madman, and Raymond Massey, the psychotic brother with the recognizable face. They play very dark roles, but find opportunities to add a little levity to their performances. John Alexander shines as Teddy Roosevelt and will have you rolling on the floor as the man who truly believes he is Teddy Roosevelt and knows exactly what will happen next in his life because he read a biography about himself.
Cary Grant is perfectly cast as the sane man trying to comprehend the unexplainable and insane happenings around him. Flustered, confused and driven to the edge, Grant reacts the way anyone in the audience would.
While Grant has risen to the level of Hollywood legend, he had a long climb to the top. Born and raised in poverty in England, he ran away from home at the age of thirteen to become a song and dance man for a traveling acrobatic troupe. He found his way to New York and worked various odd jobs including lifeguard and sandwich board sign carrier. He went back to England, found success on the stage and returned triumphantly to New York to appear on Broadway. Eventually, he wound up in Hollywood and played many bit parts until he found his talent - screwball comedy.
If you feel like laughing this weekend, check out Arsenic and Old Lace.
Directed by Frank Capra
Adapted for the screen by Julius and Phillip Epstein
Based on the play by Joseph Kesselring
Cary Grant .. Moritmer
Josephine Hull ..Abby
Jean Adair Martha
Raymond Massey .Jonathan
Peter Lorre .. Dr. Einstein
Priscilla Lane ....Elaine
John Alexander Teddy Roosevelt
Jack Carson .O'Hara
Copyright 2000 - WaffleMovies.com