Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Day 349 - Arsenic and Old Lace

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) directed by Frank Capra

Arsenic and Old Lace is a silly little comedy that I've never heard of but it features Cary Grant and is directed by Frank Capra so I figured why not. In absolute terms this movie is really no better than say, the hilarious 21 Jump Street, but I feel like these old classics will always maintain their charm while the newer cruder comedies may grow stale over time. In some ways though this film can almost be viewed as a more modern movie due to its shocking premise, a couple of sweet old ladies that kill lonely old bachelors. The comedic potential there is just as funny now as it was then, though I suppose it was even more shocking 68 years ago.

Cary Grant plays Mortimer Brewster, a man recently married who goes to visit the loving aunts that raised him. He makes a shocking discovery when he finds a dead body in a chest, but his aunts assure him there is nothing to fret about. That is just one of a dozen dead bodies they are responsible for as they have been performing mercy killings of lonely old men for a while now. Obviously Mortimer is shocked and watching Cary Grant's exacerbated expressions in the first hour is the highlight of the film. His comedic timing and facial expressions are pure gold. Things turn for the even more bizarre when Mortimer's estranged brother, the psychotic criminal Jonathan, comes back threatening the aunts and Mortimer. The first half is much funnier than the second half as the neat little premise turns into a messy and complicated romp. I suppose that is the nature of the screwball comedy but I sort of feel like the film looses much of its focus. It is sort of funny though that the sweet serial killer aunts are the sympathetic characters with the introduction of a villain. They're all villains! Caught in the middle of it all is Mortimer who must protect his aunts but also make sure they they themselves don't kill again. There are some good side characters as well, particularly the drunken Dr. Einstein, played by the wonderful Peter Lorre.

In the grand scheme of things there are certainly better slapstick screwball comedies out there and I suspect is more highly rated than it deserves to be due to the Grant/Capra appeal. The film's first half is legitimately pretty funny and amusing but it sort of loses steam at the end. I wonder though if we will look back as fondly at our generation's raunchfests as people look back at these classic screwball comedies.

Grade: B-

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