Retrospective: Arsenic and Old Lace

Arsenic_And_Old_Lace_PosterHalloween is approaching -sort of- and I cannot think of a better way to honour it than with a film classic like this Cary Grant comedy.

All right, so it is not really a “typical” Halloween film: it is not horror, nor a thriller, but it takes place on Halloween night, so that will do.

Honestly, I just want an excuse to talk about it.

Arsenic and Old Lace is mostly a vehicle for Cary Grant to show his great comical skills, his ability to deliver great lines with a stoical face and his body language. He was a genius, and this film, even though he never liked the final result, is the proof nowadays that Grand could own the screen without Katharine Hepburn by his side or Alfred Hitchcock directing.

But let me tell you a bit about the plot:

Grant plays Mortimer Brewster, a writer who despises marriage publicly and, despite that, gets married to his childhood neighbour on Halloween day. He decides to visits his two aunts, who raised him, to tell them about the marriage. In what is to become a very confusing night, he finds out that his aunts are “compassionate” serial killers, and that the black sheep of his family, his elder brother, has returned with murderous instincts.

Oh, and he also has a crazy brother who believes he is Teddy Roosevelt. So everything pretty normal so far.

That is all I can give away without spoiling the movie. Although the best parts are Grant’s reactions to everything that happens.

One interesting fact: the movie was shot in 1941, the year that the original play premiered on Broadway, but it didn’t hit cinema screens, because it couldn’t be released until the play was performed for the last time. And Josephine Hull and Jean Adair played Mortimer’s aunts in both the movie and the Broadway play. Ok, two facts.

Aaaand another fact! I don’t remember right now if it was Hull or Adair, but I have read like three Cary Grant biographies, and one of them took care of him when he got very sick in the 1920s. Back then, teenage Archibald Leach -because that was his name- had emigrated from Bristol to New York, where he was making a living as a variety performer, and that is when he was nursed by either Hull or Adair.

So if you had ever wondered why Grant’s accent was so unique -and seductive-, now you know: it is a Bristol/NYC mixture.

Don’t miss the opportunity of watching this film, it is funny Cary in the pure state.

You have the movie trailer below, but don’t judge AaOL by it. Hollywood didn’t really invest much in trailers back in the 1940s. You can tell.

PS. Last fact! I almost forgot! The character of the evil brother is getting allusions all the time to the fact that he resembles horror film star Boris Karloff, and the truth is, director Frank Capra wanted Karloff to play that part, which ultimately went to Raymond Massey. Karloff had originated the role on Broadway, where the irony had the audience bursting into laughs every night.

Left picture: Boris Karloff. Right: Massey and Grant in AaOL.

Left picture: Boris Karloff. Right: Massey and Grant in AaOL.

Categories: Film | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Retrospective: Arsenic and Old Lace

  1. I agree, the trailer isn’t that great. But the movie is! Cary Grant plays a different role than usual, but you are correct – his expressions make the movie!

    • Virginia Cerezo

      They definitely do! He made every comedy better with his expressions.

  2. Pingback: The Screen Battle of the Sexes | Corleones & Lannisters

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