Vintage television at its best, and oh, those classic commercials!
When Warner Brothers made the movie version of "Arsenic and Old Lace" in the early 1940's (not releasing it until several years later), they didn't include original Broadway cast member Boris Karloff, still in the cast on stage, uttering that immortal line which described his reason to kill. "He said I looked like Boris Karloff!", which while amusing as said by the very harshly made up Raymond Massey in the film version didn't have the same impact as Karloff saying it. For the Hallmark Hall of Fame TV version (much edited from the play to fit into a 90 minute time slot), Tony Randall took over the role of Mortimer Brewster, the stage critic whose personal life is more dramatic (in a humorous way) than anything he comments on in his newspaper. His sweet aunts (Dorothy Stickney and Mildred Natwick) are secret murderous, poisoning the old and lonely men who show up to rent a room, and hiding their bodies in the basement. Randall discovers a body in the base of the window seat, and realizes that in addition to arranging for the commitment of his older brother Teddy Brewster (a very funny Tom Bosley), his aunts need to be committed too. Just as things seem like they can't get any crazier, psychotic oldest brother Karloff shows up, and then the fun really begins to build!
Compact and tight, this streamlined version of the classic farce might not appeal to those who love the movie or the many revivals, but it is certainly a memory of how classic a medium television used to be. Stickney stands out among the two sisters, with Natwick having little to do. Every time Bosley screams "charge!" (thinking he's Teddy Roosevelt), the laughs appear, and Karloff is certainly dark and dangerous (while mixing in some laughs as well) as the often altered face of Jonathan, his insinuations of Karloff being his ugliest face quite amusing indeed. George Schaffer, who directed many classic TV programs, keeps the action moving. The DVD contains the original Hallmark commercials, reminding the viewer of a simpler time where life had much more innocence even with a dark world swirling around the audience.
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