Thursday, October 29, 2020

An enjoyable Halloween movie

There is a lot of over-thinking and political nonsense in the second half of this essay — attributing "insights" that never would have occurred to Capra or the author of the play or writers of the screenplay — but before that a good description of a very entertaining comedy. I first saw the play onstage in a Milton College production. About the film:
.... Arsenic and Old Lace is as Rockwell-esque as It’s a Wonderful Life, a gleeful, ghoulish comedy that runs wild in an aesthetic of darling, old-fashioned, almost Victorian-Americana. It is quaint. It is cozy. It is joyous. It is not a film, so much as a carol. A Halloween carol, you might say. ....

Based on the hit 1941 play by Joseph Kesselring and screenwritten by Casablanca dream team Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein, Arsenic and Old Lace is the story of Mortimer Brewster, a famous, wealthy, and well-liked theater critic (the first tip-off that this thing is fiction), who discovers one Halloween night that his entire family is criminally, murderously insane. Until he heads home (to the quaint Brooklyn street where he was raised), on that day, Mortimer (Cary Grant, hyper and nuttery) believes that the biggest trouble before him is a nuptial scandal, that he’ll make a mockery of his career by getting married; he’s the author of several bombastic, comical books that decry marriage, entitled things like The Bachelor’s Bible, yet what has he done? Gone and fallen in love with Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane), the daughter of the Minister who lives across the road from his two adorable spinster aunts, Abby (Josephine Hull) and Martha (Jean Adair). Mortimer’s aunts raised him in that house, so Elaine’s really “the girl next door,” of all things—a homey figure that checks the highfalutin city boy persona he has adopted. After they get married in the Manhattan courthouse and duck the paparazzi (again, he’s a theater critic?!), they swing by Brooklyn to say a quick goodbye to their families before heading to Niagara Falls. That’s when Mortimer stumbles upon a dead body stuffed into the window seat of his Aunts’ well-kept parlor. ....

And with this, the movie turns from a screwball romantic comedy about a secretly-reformed chauvinist who falls in love with a girl from his own neighborhood, into a high-stakes farce about a man who discovers that his loving family (and the idyllic block where he was raised) are not nearly as charming and innocent as they once seemed. There have been clues to this all along—including Mortimer’s ne’er-do-well brother Jonathan Brewster, whom they haven’t seen in years. Their childhood was spent with Jonathan tormenting Mortimer, and Mortimer seems to have blocked out the darker aspects of this fraternal bullying. But then, of course, this Halloween night, when Mortimer has to negotiate between the new, impatient bride waiting across the street [actually, across the churchyard], a dead body in his family’s living room, and his Aunts’ frank confession of serial murders, Jonathan (Raymond Massey) finally returns home. But Jonathan doesn’t look like himself—a wanted man (guilty of a dozen murders, just like his Aunts), he has commissioned a cowardly, alcoholic surgeon named Dr. Einstein (Peter Lorre) to cosmetically reconstruct his face, resulting in a hack job that permanently makes him look like Frankenstein’s monster, scars and all. ....
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) is available right now on Prime Video

Arsenic and Old Lace - Crimereads

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