Monday, November 8, 2010

Cinema Sunday ~ Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

This is by far one of my favorite movies...and it also happens to be my Halloween tradition. I turn off all of the lights, grab a big bowl of popcorn...and any candies I have on hand...and sink down into my couch to enjoy every moment of this classic. Frank Capra delivers a fine balance of the black comedy...hysterical moments coupled by the sense of the dark & sinister.

Cary Grant is probably my absolute favorite Classic Hollywood actor...he's been my dream man since I was a little girl. Funny, suave, tall, dark & handsome. I just love him! Anyway, let's get into this's set to walk you through a single night, which just happens to be the night of Halloween. Drama critic Mortimer Brewster (Grant) is a self proclaimed bachelor who has even published a book on the evils of marriage. Yet we find in the opening scene that Elaine Harper (played by Priscilla Lane) has captured his heart and even managed to get him in line at the City Clerk's Office to get their marriage license. And after a panicked bolt from the office, Mortimer is forced to deal with the fact that he is truly in love with Elaine and manages to go through with the secret nuptials. We are introduced to Mortimer's Aunts (The Brewster Sisters) by two cops making their rounds. Officer Brophy is showing the ropes to his replacement Officer Pat O'Harrah and makes the comment:
"I'm turning over to you the nicest, the best beat in Brooklyn...This whole neighborhood just stinks with atmosphere."
The camera then pans to a sign "ROOM FOR RENT" in the front yard of the two wealthy, do-good maiden aunts that live in a mansion of the middle-class block.
Brophy continues: "They're two of the dearest, sweetest, kindest old ladies that ever walked the earth. They're out of this world...They're like pressed rose leaves...Their old man left them fixed for life.."
We then enter the Brewster Sisters' home...and you can't help but like Aunt Abby (Josephine Hull). She is my favorite out of the two...bubbly, sweet and a round little bouncy thing is she. She's busy conversing with Reverend Harper over some tea when the officers come by. We are also introduced to Mortimer's younger brother Theodore "Teddy" Brewster (John Alexander), who we find is a bit off his see, he believes that he's President Theodore Roosevelt...and that the staircase is San Juan Hill as he charges up it with a "CHAAARGE!" and a bugle blast. And just as the good Reverend Harper is leaving, in walks Aunt Martha (Jean Adair), who looks like she's walked straight out of a Victoriannovel with her lacy highnecked blouse. Elaine and Mortimer next show up at the house of his two elderly Aunts to let them in on the explosive news of their marriage. And we get to see the newlyweds frolic in the cemetery that sits between Mortimer's Aunts' house and Elaine's father's church/parsonage. (turns out that her father is the Reverend Harper and is not a fan of Mortimer and his anti marriage gibberish that he spews) Elaine heads into her father's parsonage to deliver the news and grab her bags for the honeymoon. And I always find myself feeling excited and a bit giddy for the new bride. We find out that these two dear old ladies have been up to no good...unbeknownst to Mortimer, or anyone else in the Brooklyn for that matter. You see, the take in lonely men, men who don't have anyone that loves them in the world, and poison them with their elderberry wine...that has quite a kick to it with its' extra ingredients of a teaspoonful of arsenic, a half-teaspoon of strychnine and a "pinch of cyanide". These darling women have been busy indeed. Mortimer mistakenly accuses Teddy of the cause for the corpse he discovers in his Aunts' window seat...which also throws him into a complete state of befuddlement, even pushing his new bride off to the side while he tries to figure out how to take care of the situation that he finds his Aunts have made. This only gets complicated even more by the untimely arrival of his other brother Jonathan (Raymond Massey) and his sidekick "Doctor" Herman Einstein (Peter Lorre). Jonathan has turned out to be a sadistic, cold-blooded murderer who also just happens to bear the striking resemblance of Boris Karloff's Frankenstein character...courtesy of Dr. Einstein's plastic surgery abilities and the doctor's overindulgence of alcohol at the time. They bring along with them a third party, Mr. Spinalzo who gets dumped into the window seat...which was vacated when Teddy went to bury the latest yellow fever victim in Panama (the basement). We get to watch as Mortimer tries desperately to get Teddy committed to Happy Dale Sanitarium. No one would dismiss the idea that the murders were committed by Teddy, after all everyone knew that Teddy was crazy. One thing leads to another and we watch as Mortimer gets bound and gagged...right in the presence of Officer O'Harrah. It's all so ridiculously chaotic...I just can't spoil the ending for you. You're just going to have to check it out for yourselves. :)

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