Arsenic and Old Lace (1941, Frank Capra)

In the title I accidentally typed “Frank Zappa” at first. Usually my sympathies lie more with Zappa than Capra, but I liked this one a lot. The version of the play that we did in high school did not give the male lead a homicidal maniac of a brother with a mad doctor and a dead body in tow. I remember it being all around more gentle. The play was a huge hit when this movie was shot, and the playwright permitted the film under two conditions: that Boris Karloff wouldn’t be allowed to participate (all the jokes about the brother looking like Karloff depended on him, but instead of changing the line for the film, they made Raymond Massey up to look like Karloff) and the movie couldn’t be released until the play closed. So it was shown to troops overseas, but didn’t make it into theaters until 1944, some six Cary Grant movies later.

Grant wasn’t wild about this movie – I thought he used his surprised screwball expression too many times but is otherwise just fine. He is to marry Priscilla Lane (of The Roaring Twenties and Saboteur), takes her home to meet his sweet old aunts but discovers that they’ve been murdering lonely men and having Cary’s insane Teddy Roosevelt-impersonating brother bury them in the basement. Then the other brother (Raymond Massey of a couple Powell and Pressburger films) with doctor Peter Lorre show up, and hijinks just never stop ensuing. In fact, the comedy and suspense don’t even let up long enough for Capra to inject any long, boring speeches espousing his patriotism or morals. Hooray for that! E. Everett Horton was in there as well, but I’ve already forgotten where.

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