Friday, October 12, 2012
'Arsenic and Old Lace' offers dark, slapstick laughs
"Arsenic and Old Lace" is one of funniest movies ever made. Directed by Frank Capra from adaptation by Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein of Joseph Kesselring's play, the film is a perfect pairing of inspired looniness with macabre humor.
M&D Production is presenting "Arsenic and Old Lace" as part of their dinner and a movie series Oct. 16. Dinner is at 6:30 p.m. with the movie starting at 7 p.m. The menu, prepared by Mark DeLancey, features meatloaf, garlic mashed potatoes with homemade gravy, buttered peas, side salad and assorted desserts and beverages.
Cary Grant stars in the film as Mortimer Brewster, a newspaperman and author known for his diatribes against marriage, who winds up in love and married after all.
The film is set in the home of his aunts (Josephine Hull and Jean Adair) with whom Mortimer is excited to introduce his new bride (Priscilla Lane). Instead, Mortimer stumbles upon his aunts secret hobby: killing lonely older men and burying them in the basement.
As if that wasn't bad enough, Mortimer's homicidal brother Jonathan (Raymond Massey) and his sniveling plastic surgeon (Peter Lorre) decide to visit the beloved aunts as well.
Poor Mortimer is also dealing with his brother Teddy (John Alexander) who believes he is Teddy Roosevelt and yells "Charge!" every time he runs up stairs.
Director Capra was best known for slices of Americana in which idealistic characters like George Bailey, Jefferson Smith, John Doe and Longfellow Deeds would stand up to and defeat cynicism. Capra was just as comfortable doing madcap comedy as evidenced in such films as "It Happened One Night" and "You Can't Take It With You."
"Arsenic and Old Lace" is his maddest comedy and also his darkest. In terms of direction, in several scenes he creates a creepy atmosphere that relies heavily on shadows. These darker elements form an interesting tension with the overall lighter tone of the material. These more foreboding moments are handled delicately and never overpower the comedy.
Grant considered his performance terribly over the top and called this his least favorite film. It is a shame that Grant wasn't able to see that his acting choices were just right. The performance is indeed over the top, but gloriously so.
In its way, it is very brave performance because Grant went huge in a way that could've been overbearing. Clearly, Grant believed he had done just that, but Grant's wide-eyed facial expressions and manic energy are an ideal match to the material, which blends slapstick, fast-paced dialogue, the absurd and dark humor.
The rest of the cast is equally inspired. Hull, Adair and Alexander all reprised their roles from the original Broadway production and their comfort with the characters is evident. Hull and Adair are very funny as the quintessential sweet, lovable older ladies. They genuinely see nothing wrong with what they are doing.
Massey is made up to look like Boris Karloff which leads to a funny running gag about his appearance. In the original Broadway production it really was Karloff in the role. Massey gives both an intimidating performance that creates great comic tension with the lunacy around him.
The quirky Lorre, the master of whimpering, weaselly sidekicks, is always a welcomed screen presence.
Those who haven't had a chance to see this comedy classic should take advantage of M&D's dinner and a movie night. Tickets are $10. For reservations call 662-7591.