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"What we've been doing is a mercy.",
This review is from: Arsenic and Old Lace [VHS] (VHS Tape)
Cary Grant is at his comic best in this off-the-wall Frank Capra film in which Grant plays Mortimer Brewster, a drama critic with a bizarre family. His brother Teddy (John Alexander) thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt and spends his time digging "locks for the Panama Canal" in the basement of the family home. His brother Jonathan (wonderfully played by Raymond Massey) has returned home with a dozen murders to his credit, looking like Frankenstein, thanks to the sinister plastic surgeon who accompanies him (Peter Lorre). His batty, elderly aunts (Jean Adair and Josephine Hull) put Teddy's "locks" to good use for their own "merciful" activities.
The frantic action, ironies, and the dramatic surprises all center around two bodies, hidden at various times in the window seat of the living room, and the reactions to them by the various people within the household. The local police, friends of Aunts Abby and Martha, stop by to chat, have coffee, and protect these "sweet" old ladies, often at the worst possible moments, while Mortimer tries to decide what to do about his strange family and the bodies in the house. Complicating the action is the fact that Mortimer has just that day married Elaine (Priscilla Lane), who lives next door. She keeps showing up at the house at the wrong moment, having no idea why Mortimer keeps kicking her out.
Sight gags, mistaken identity, contretemps, high-speed action, and split second timing make this one of the most outrageous, and hilarious black comedies ever filmed. The cast is perfect, and the acting is over-the-top, with a great deal of yelling, mugging, wide-eyed looks of surprise, feigned innocence, and even satire of the film industry as people repeatedly tell Jonathan he looks like Boris Karloff. Perfectly timed entrances and exits keep the action moving at a frantic pace, and the conclusion is delightful. Released in 1944, when World War II had taken a terrible toll on the country emotionally, the film must have provided a much-needed comic lift at a time when it was especially needed. Mary Whipple