Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Arsenic and Old Lace</strong> (1944)

(Youtube Streaming, November 2018) It’s easy to like Arsenic and Old Lace if you already like Cary Grant—after all, the film is his showcase, as he goes from being a suave newlywed man of letters to becoming increasingly frantic as he discovers that his aunts and then his brother are all proficient serial killers in their own ways. It’s not a good thing to discover on one’s honeymoon, and things get crazier as he also tries to manage an insane uncle, friendly policemen and fights to stay alive given the presence of a psychopath or two. The black comedy of Arsenic and Old Lace is a bit surprising in a post-Code mid-1940s comedy, but the film did have a strong theatrical pedigree, being an adaptation of a long-running Broadway play. Frank Capra directs what is essentially a stage play with some flair (a bit of a departure from his usual fare), but much of the work is done by the actors. If you want to see a face-off between Cary Grant and Peter Lorre, well, this is your movie. Grant does play the role very broadly, but his facial expressions are terrific—the sequence in which he’s tied up and gagged has some hilarious comedy moments simply because of the way he uses his face and eyes. Grant hasn’t often played a character as out-of-control as in Arsenic and Old Lace, but it works largely because his usual persona is the one we see at the beginning of the film—what if such a person got in as bad a scrap as in here? There’s even a metafictional moment in which his character comments on the stupidity of stage characters … while making the exact same mistakes. The beginning of the film is a bit laborious, but like most farces it converges in time for a high-spirited last act in which everything collides. Some of the acting and staging choices will seem a bit on-the-nose, but Arsenic and Old Lace is still funny and still well-worth seeing today.

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