Thursday, October 30, 2008

My Halloween Post - Capra's Arsenic and Old Lace

I’ve been meaning to watch this film for a while, not for any specific reason but just been meaning to, just never had a real urge to. But now since I am catching up on some long overdue film viewing I finally got the chance to watch this 1944 Frank Capra film and boy did it pleasantly surprise me. The film stars Cary Grant, Josephine Hull, and Jean Adair and is based on a stage play of the same name by Joseph Kesselring. The film concerns the Brewster family and the insanity that ensues on one glorious Hallows Eve.

As the prologue says this is a “Halloween tale of Brooklyn where anything can happen and it usually does.” So by the point one should guess I was pretty damn excited I needed something fun to write about for my favorite holiday of the year and in Capra and Grant I found exactly what I wanted. A film about two remaining matriarchs of a well to do family and their very bad habit of ending the lives of lonely bachelors by serving them wine spiked with arsenic, strychnine and “just a pinch of cyanide.” One would also expect that the film that follows is hardly normal, it’s hardly anything ordinary at all, and it wouldn’t be quite fitting that such a story be told on any other evening of the year since I don’t think it would be quite as enchanting as this one.

Now accompanying this oddball story is the perfected comedic garnish throughout the film. I haven’t seem many Capra film’s and I am a fan, and this film doesn’t disappoint either it’s just not the sap happy Capra I am used to. The film is sheer screwball perfection and Cary Grant is the master. Honestly as I look over my notes I’ve mentioned how magnificent Grant is every five points or so. I am used to Cary Grant the romantic, the charming, tall, dark and handsome man from North by Northwest and Talk of the Town. And the rest of the supporting cast is just stunning. Josephine Hull and Jean Adair are spectacular and work the biddy old lady bit to its sweet end. You just want them to give you candy and tell you stories. Also Peter Lorre is always a pleasant surprise when you see him and he plays the perfect socio side-kick to Raymond Massey, who plays Grant’s sociopath brother Jonathon, who I must say at points in this film just gives me chills. Everyone just seemed to have worked so well together, and it just looks like they must have had a marvelous time making the film.

I feel like if I had watched this on Halloween night I would have enjoyed it even more. I miss black and white, and it’s utilized so well in this film in terms of lighting and compositions. Sol Polito, the director of photography for the film, used every possible chance he could get in the story to use the darkness to his advantage and not just have this be your everyday screwball comedy. This film is frightening at points and I think the lighting and photography aids us in enjoying it in that way. The film is delightfully frightening, don’t get me wrong, it’s funny. But as Aunt Abby says, “they ought not to be allowed to make such pictures just to frighten people” and as the tagline says “You’ll die laughing.” So I say this Halloween forget about Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm St. don’t just put some Capra into your Christmas put him into your Halloween this year and you wont be disappointed.

I’ll leave you with a little taste from the movie, both to display how marvelous Grant is and how exactly the film mixes the comedic with the horrific. Happy Halloween Folks! All the best! And may the magic that is immersed in this holiday never be forgotten. Enjoy!

No comments: