Martin Blank is a professional assassin. He is sent on a mission to a small Detroit suburb, Grosse Pointe, and, by coincidence, his ten-year high school reunion party is taking place there at the same time.
Mortimer Brewster is a newspaperman and author known for his diatribes against marriage. We watch him being married at city hall in the opening scene. Now all that is required is a quick trip home to tell Mortimer's two maiden aunts. While trying to break the news, he finds out his aunts' hobby; killing lonely old men and burying them in the cellar. It gets worse. Written by
John Vogel <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A presumably sane young drama critic (Cary Grant) visits the home of his two elderly aunts. Upon arrival, he finds that his two dear, sweet, lovable aunts have embarked on what they see as their mission of mercy ... killing lonely old men, by giving them arsenic-laced wine. Our sane young drama critic soon learns that insanity runs in the family.
Five years ago, the American Film Institute selected America's 100 funniest movies. "Arsenic And Old Lace" (1944) came in at Number 30. And that's not surprising. A lot of people enjoy this dark, screwball comedy, with its slapstick, its fast pace, its sharp dialogue, and its engaging characters. A lot of viewers like it simply because of Cary Grant.
The film's underlying premise is really great. And I must confess that Aunt Abby (Josephine Hull) and Aunt Martha (Jean Adair) are cute and entertaining. (Interestingly, the film portrays them as usually together and almost always in agreement with each other. It's like they function as a single entity). And the other denizen of the house, Uncle Teddy (John Alexander) is also a hoot.
But I'm not a big fan of Cary Grant. His performance here is exaggerated. His hyper and jerky behavior is distracting and grating. The plot gets ever sillier as it moves along, and downright tedious toward the end. Lastly, I have never cared much for films that are so top heavy with dialogue.
The best part of the film is the cinematography. Most of the scenes take place in a big living room, at times with lights out. The B&W lighting is very stark with high contrast, which renders a suitably sinister atmosphere.
"Arsenic ..." is not my cup of tea. But, for viewers who like talky stage plays with an accent on macabre humor, this film is a fine choice. Could I interest you in a glass of elderberry wine, perhaps?
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