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Arsenic and Old Lace

D: Frank Capra C: Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Raymond Massey

Still the best comedy-thriller in spite of two major miscasts. Casting Raymond Massey as Jonathan completely destroys the running gag of his resemblance to Boris Karloff. Worse still, Cary Grant is totally wrong for the part of Mortimer. Grant is a bland ladies’ man, and certainly no comedian. Quite frankly, with his constant double-takes, wide-eyed camera-looks and cartoon noises, he’s a disaster! Bob Hope would have nailed it. It’s a great pity, as if it hadn’t been for these two catastrophic mistakes, caused by the movie being rushed into production, it would have been immaculate. The movie keeps its frantic page all through its two-hour running time without ever confusing the audience. The premise of two elderly ladies out of the goodness of their hearts poisoning lonely old men with elderberry wine, matching the body count of their psychopathic nephew and his accomplice (a part that seems to have been written for Peter Lorre) their other, reasonably sane nephew, getting involved on his wedding-day, and their somewhat less dangerously demented brother, believing himself to be Theodore Roosevelt, is allowed to develop into a series of absurd situations, never missing a trick or losing track of the logical progression, adding a few stock characters along the way, the stage-struck, incredibly thick cop, the desperate taxi driver with the meter running, and so forth. Making us laugh heartily at mass murder and torture is, of course, in itself something of a feat, this being hands-down the director’s least mawkish work.

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