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USA 1944
Directed by
Frank Capra
118 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Arsenic And Old Lace

Although Capra is best remembered for his rather cloying all-American everyman social conscience films, Mr Deeds Goes To Town (1936) and Mr Smith Goes To Washington, for lovers of the offbeat, this part-screwball, part-slapstick and very black comedy was his finest, strangely macabre, hour.

Cary Grant mugs mercilessly in an energetic performance as he plays a newly-wed drama critic who, on the eve of his honeymoon, discovers that his dear little old aunts have been poisoning elderly gentlemen. Although made in 1941, the film’s release was delayed for three years until Joseph Kesselring's successful Broadway play of the same name ended its run. Adapted by Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein, the film sticks close to its theatrical form and, as is so often the case, benefits from its thorough workout on stage, with tight, rapid fire exchanges and a fast-paced farcical spirit that has lost none of its sparkle, albeit being a tad drawn out.

The original stage stars of the Kesselring play, Jean Adair, Josephine Hull, and John Alexander (Aunt Martha, Aunt Aby and Uncle Teddy respectively), were released for four weeks in order to shoot the film and were joined, beside Grant, by Raymond Massey, Peter Lorre and Jack Carson. Priscilla Lane who plays Grants new bride, and who had been James Cagney’s girlfriend in The Roaring Twenties (1939) retired from film-making a few years later.




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