Friday, October 17, 2014


October "Arsenic and Old Lace"

Welcome to the third installment of A Year with Capra Challenge. The challenge, for each month within a year, I get to review a different Frank Capra movie. For October's choice, to enhance the theme of Halloween, it was suggested (thank you Stevie) to review Arsenic and Old Lace (1944). The movie is based off of a play written by Joseph Kesselring and was a Broadway hit from 1939 to 1944. Interestingly, the movie was originally shot in 1941 and delayed until the end of the Broadway run, hence the release of the movie in 1944 (Lou Lumenick, New York Post 2014).

Cary Grant portrays the main protagonist, Mortimer Brewster, a dramatic critic who penned a written work about the joys of being a bachelor, and now has to deal with his crazy family before he, and his bride, can leave. Grant has been known to consider this his worst performance and by far his least favorite, and says about his performance in Arsenic and Old Lace "I'm way over the top" (New York Post, 2014). He might not have enjoyed his performance however, it shows Grant in a different light, fun and unfiltered in a sense. He might have considered himself over the top but, his performance enhanced this dark comedy about his dealings with an inane family.

The movie begins with Brewster (Grant) and leading lady Priscilla Lane as Elaine Harper, as they are attempting to obtain their marriage license. After a brief run-in with the press, they're able to succeed and arrive home as a married couple on their way to Niagara Falls for their honeymoon. They just have to tell their families, pack a few things, and they would be one the way (or so they thought). When Brewster arrives home to his two sweet and angelic Aunts he learns a dark history. Along with a certifiable crazy Theodore Roosevelt under their roof, it makes for a comical situation.

When Brewster and his Aunts start searching the area for misplaced notes, Brewster discovers a dead body hidden within the window seat and immediately deducts that it must be the certifiable insane Teddy Roosevelt's doing. However, rather simple and untouched, his Aunt's explain how it is actually their doing. For months they have been taking in lonely old men, with no family and so forth; they feel that they have been of service and consider their actions charitable. Brewster begins to lose his mind, let alone that he was just married and should be leaving for his honeymoon! He immediately puts into motion to have Teddy Roosevelt (not really the President, just a cherished character who believes to be) committed to a "resting home." Meanwhile his new bride is awaiting to be whisked away by her charming and enthusiastic husband. Plans get put on an immediate hold once Brewster learns that his Aunts are serial killers!

As if things weren't bad enough, enter Mortimer's brother, Jonathan (Raymond Massey). His Aunts have turned off the lights and have lit candles in their effort to perform a Christian service and burial for their latest victim. When they think that there are intruders in their home, they learn that it is their other nephew Jonathan and his associate Dr. Einstein (Peter Lorre). The scene when they walk in was more than comical; Jonathan looks like a contemporary version of Frankenstein (because of his multiple scars upon his face) and Dr. Einstein is the pop-eyed assistant! I was just awaiting for Dr. Einstein's character to utter "yes, master." We learn very quickly that Jonathan is definitely not like his brother and now he's in competition with his Aunts. However, Jonathan is out for his brother to join the rest of the corpses within the cellar.

Overall, the movie is enjoyable to watch. If you aren't into the slasher gore filled horror movies, or the anxiety stuffed thrillers that are the most popular during this time of year, than you'll want to check out Arsenic and Old Lace (it's only $2.99 on YouTube and Amazon). I enjoy quirky dark comedies, so this was right up my alley. There are more twists and turns in the movie that you'll have to check out for yourself, I didn't want to give away all it's secrets.  However, it's a movie that could easily make it's way into anyone's top Halloween stack of movies to watch!