cacb3995's Movie Review of Arsenic and Old Lace

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Arsenic and Old Lace

The Dark Humour of an Unconventional Family
cacb3995 - wrote on 06/20/18

Back in the 1930s and 40s, as the studio system and the Hays code were in their peaks, Frank Capra was one of the most important directors in Hollywood. He helmed such classics like “It Happened One Night” (1934), “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939) and “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946). His films have become milestones of american cinema, always blended in with a heartfelt story and clever humour. In 1944 he released “Arsenic and Old Lace”, today somewhat lesser known than the previously mentioned titles, and yet still considered an undisputable classic for those who know it. Based on a classic Broadway play by the same name and starring Cary Grant, the film is a clear example of how classy and utterly funny comedies at the time could be.

“Arsenic and Old Lace” tells the tale of the Brewster family, who descended from the Mayflower and are currently located in New York. Virtually every member is considerably crazy: Teddy (John Alexander) fancies himself to be Theodor Roosevelt, the long lost Jonathan comes back home followed by the law and with a few crimes under his belt, and aunts Abby and Martha (Josephine Hull and Jean Adair, respectively) have a very sneaky and secretive habit that has to do with the basement. The only apparently sane one is Mortimer (Cary Grant), who is about to get married with Elaine (Priscilla Lane), but he’s worried his family’s troubled genes will come back to haunt him. About 80% of the film takes place in the living room of the Brewster house, and conflict arises as Martimer slowly begins to realize his family members’ dark secrets. Also, another character that needs to get mentioned is Dr. Einstein (yes, really), played by Peter Lorre, who accompanies Jonathan to his childhood home.

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