The lost movie of the week: Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

Cary Grant at his best in this screwball comedy which makes fun of itself and the characters in the movie. The film is based on the very successful play by American playwright Joseph Kesselring.

A drama critic learns on his wedding day that his beloved maiden aunts are homicidal maniacs, and that insanity runs in his family.

Frank Capra is one of the best and most famous directors of all time. This macabre comedy filled with dark humor is the “weird one” in Capra’s cinematography.  Known for his more naïve social conscious and moral characters like James Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and Gary Cooper in “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”, Capra directs this slapstick comedy with murderous aunts and dangerous family members with talent and precision, clearly having fun in the process. Cary Grant plays a parody of the romantic lead of that time, with a character much more layered than meets the eye. With ease and charm Grant plays a seamless perfect man with a dark family secret. Helped in his endeavor by a fantastic cast:  played by Peter Lorre (always wonderful in his more mysterious and chilling roles), John Alexander, Priscilla Lane, the terrific duo Jean Adair and Josephine Hull and last but not least Raymond Massey, a role which should have been played by Boris Karloff but Karloff couldn’t to his regret commit to the movie because he was still acting in the play.

The film was a giant success even though it had a rocky production. The film was shot in 1941 but came out in 1944. The feature had to wait until the highly popular play completed its Broadway run. Capra wanted also that Massey would look exactly like Boris Karloff, but afraid this would lead to a lawsuit, the studio insisted that Karloff would sign a release accepting the Massey. By doing so, he made a lot of money because he was an investor in the play thus receiving a percentage of the movies success. Capra wanted Bob Hope for the lead role but he needed to shoot the film just before his military duty during World War II, so he settled for Cary Grant (who insisted that James Stewart would have been the better choice).

Stanley Berenboom

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