Monday, August 10, 2009

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) 9.50/10


When career bachelor Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) marries preacher's daughter Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane) he thinks saying "I do" will be the hardest part of his day. Yet upon returning to his aunts' (Josephine Hull and Jean Adair) house, where he grew up, he makes a startling discovery... a dead body by the window and his aunts are the killers, it's for charity of course! Things aren't helped any when his sociopathic brother Jonathan (Raymond Massey) makes a surprise visit home after years running from the cops. With a wife next door waiting for him to go on their honeymoon, a dead body to hide for his aunts, a dead body to hide because of his brother, and a crazy uncle who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt, Mortimer is in for the day of his life.

To be honest I probably could have written a shorter description of the film, but my god to say this movie has a complex series of plots would be to call the Pacific Ocean moderate in size. Arsenic and Old Lace, based on the play of the same name, is a fun over the top screwball comedy/drama, that follows the worst day Mortimer Brewster will ever have. From beginning to end Cary Grant carries the film, no pun intended, with a series of hilarious moments, out of the park acting, and a great sense of the distress his character is going through. The supporting cast each deliver amicably, helping to bring out the multiple layers, twists and turns, that lie at each new plot point.

Not all the jokes make a perfect transition, the constant jokes on the similarity between Jonathan and Boris Karloff was put in do to the fact that Boris Karloff (of Frankenstein fame) played the roll on Broadway. Yet Raymond Massey takes over the roll with every bit of respect it deserves, and is as maniacal as you could ever dream of.

For a 1940's film/play the movie deals with a surprising amount of violent subject matter, but none of it really detracts from the film. Instead it makes the film much more of a dark humor affair. Mortimer's mental descent throughout the film is captured with brilliance by Capra, who keeps the film very simple, using the film's ability to go beyond the set of a stage only when necessary.

The use of darkness for comedic moments is simply perfect, with a goofy sense of things around it. Capra and crew often use shadows to heighten scary moments, or add a level of darkness, to these colorfully odd characters. The writing supports Capra's effort, in being pitch perfect, wonderfully capturing Kesselring's fine play. Bringing to life the great lines such as "Insanity runs in my family... It practically gallops."

In end Arsenic and Old Lace is the perfect Cary Grant film. Dark, funny, over the top on every level, and so entertaining you'll want to watch it again and again.

1 better thoughts:

Chase Kahn said...

I just watched this for the first times a few months ago -- definitely a classic screwball comedy and one of Grant's funnier roles.

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