Wednesday, April 11, 2012

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944)

If I was to ever invent a time machine one of the first things I would want to do is go see Henry Fonda onstage in the play "Mister Roberts" and Boris Karloff in "Arsenic and Old Lace". I doubt that's gonna happen so the next best thing is the film. And most likely the film version of "Arsenic and Old Lace" is probably better than the play thanks to Frank Capra's energetic direction, the nearly identical script and the absolutely amazing performances by the entire cast especially Cary Grant who is phenomenal. If there was an Oscar for ensemble performances I would love to say the cast of ARSENIC AND OLD LACE would get it, but with THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK and HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO both coming out the same year...I honestly don't know what I would do. It would be torture to decide, but I think I would have to go with HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO.

Anyway, ARSENIC AND OLD LACE. Cary Grant lives with his two elderly aunts in a historic district of Brooklyn. He's a dramatic critic and self-proclaimed lifelong bachelor, that is until he secretly marries his beautiful neighbor Priscilla Lane in the opening scene. Cary and Priscilla make a brief stop by home to pack their bags for their honeymoon when Cary accidentally discovers a dead body! Cary instantly believes this is the doing of his crazy brother Teddy (who believes that he's Theodore Roosevelt), but when he breaks the news to his two dear old aunts they just laugh and tell him no they killed the man he found!!!

At this point Cary is understandably freaking the fuck out and desperately trying to figure out how to fix this situation when out of nowhere his truly psychotic brother Jonathan (the great Raymond Massey) comes home after being on the run from the law (for mass murder!) for 20 years. Add on to all of this a nosy neighborhood policeman (the underrated Jack Carson), a drunk underworld surgeon (the always awesome Peter Lorre), a horny wife, a pissed off taxi cab driver, a confused sanitarium doctor and twelve more dead bodies and you have yourself a recipe for one of the funniest dark comedies of all time.

I cannot say enough good things or recommend ARSENIC AND OLD LACE enough. Seventy years later the script is still just as fresh and funny as ever. Pretty much everything about this film is perfect and even after countless viewings (I have it on my phone) I still grin like the son of a sea cook every time I watch it.

Fun fact: even though the movie was filmed in late 1941 it wasn't released until September 1, 1944! This was due to Warner Brothers being contractually required to wait until the play finished it's run. It ran for 1,444 performances.
Hank Mann (left) and Charles Lane (right).

Gary Owen

Leo White. According to IMDb he starred in 439 films (most uncredited, kinda like here) but according to his own personal journal he appeared in over 2,000 films!!!!!!!!!!!!

The ol' leg through the chair routine which he also used in my favorite scene of my favorite movie: THE AWFUL TRUTH.

Is this an inside joke alluding to GEORGE WASHINGTON SLEPT HERE was filmed on the same interior set? They sure do look a lot alike.