director Frank Capra
The kids had really enjoyed Cary Grant in His Girl Friday (1940), and Felix was keen to watch another comedy with him in it. So, for the second entry of our “comedy month” films, I selected an old favorite, Frank Capra’s 1944 version of Arsenic and Old Lace.
The whole film is a pretty hilarious romp, but the absolute best is the wonderful Josephine Hull as Aunt Abby Brewster as the cartoonishly sweet and silly serial killer euthanizer. Jean Adair is also lovely as Aunt Martha, but Hull is just so perfect and gets the best lines and moments. Grant pulls the most extreme double-takes of his career, finding out the secrets of his kind and darling aunts. John Alexander is spot-on as “Teddy Roosevelt” Brewster, unsurprising in that Alexander, Hull and Adair were all reprising roles they had played in the play on Broadway.
The one gag that doesn’t go over nearly as well is the reference to Boris Karloff. Raymond Massey plays the villainous Jonathan Brewster, scarred and face-lifted to look somewhat like Karloff at the hands of Dr. Einstein (played by the inimitable Peter Lorre). Karloff played the role on stage and so the self-referential nature of the gag was inherently more impactful. Here, it sort of works, but with the remove from time and place of the 1940’s, it’s just a little off.
The kids really enjoyed it. Clara thought it was hilarious. I have to say that I enjoyed it, having not seen it in eons, but I guess I enjoyed it slightly less than I had recalled. It’s still a hoot, if not a perfect one.