ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944)
Article 1814 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-3-2006
Posting Date: 7-31-2006
Directed by Frank Capra
Featuring Cary Grant, Josephine Hull, Jean Adair
A dramatic critic discovers that his two loveable aunts have been poisoning lonely old men as a charity.
I’ve long been a fan of the Joseph Kesselring play on which this movie was based, and at least part of this affection is derived from the role it played in the career of Boris Karloff, who rightly enough played the role of Jonathan Brewster on Broadway. I directed a scene from the play in college, and then went on to appear in a production of it several years later. This movie adaptation features many favorite actors of mine, including Cary Grant, Peter Lorre, James Gleason and Edward Everett Horton, and also features both Josephine Hull and Jean Adair in the roles in which they appeared on stage. The movie was also directed by Frank Capra, one of the most accomplished directors in his time. Yet, despite all this, the movie just falls short of being a real favorite of mine, largely because of two circumstances. Despite my affection for his work and despite the fact that his comic timing is impeccable here, I’m still put off by Cary Grant’s performance; I think he’s way over the top and that the role would have worked much better with a more subdued performance. I also can never quite bring myself to be won over by Raymond Massey’s performance in the Jonathan Brewster role, not because of anything he does wrong but just because every time he opens his mouth, I imagine what it would be like to actually hear the words coming from Karloff’s mouth, and I never quite accept what I’m actually hearing. Karloff was unavailable for the movie, as he was busy with the Broadway production of the show, so I can’t really blame anything but circumstance, but I do feel his absence tremendously, and it does hamper my enjoyment of the movie. This doesn’t bother a lot of other people, and quite frankly, I envy them for it. And I’m afraid that THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU isn’t quite an acceptable substitute, either.
I watched this for the first time in about 35 years this week and it was not as funny as I remembered. Grant’s performance was going to be reshot and toned down but the war intervened. Too bad.