Thursday, April 24, 2008

Top Films: "I'm the son of a sea cook!"

Arsenic and Old Lace is Frank Capra’s least preachy film, and perhaps one of his better ones for it. He actually chose the film to get away from the more message heavy films he was known for. In the process he made what might be one of the earliest dark comedy films ever.

The humor here is macabre, but hilariously delivered. Take two little ladies who are serial-mercy-killers, a brother who is a normal serial killer, and another who is run-of-the-mill lunatic. Add in a hack plastic surgeon, a clueless rookie cop who wants to be a playwrite and top it all off with a couple trying to get away for their honeymoon and you have the crazy, laugh out loud ingredients of this film.

Mortimer Brewster is so sympathetic, because the viewer can see themselves in him. His main motivating compulsion in life is to avoid being exposed for who he really is. We first see him getting a marriage license incognito, because he is an outspoken marriage critic and doesn’t want to be exposed as a hypocrite. Upon arriving home to pack for his Honeymoon, he discovers a much greater skeleton in his closet that cannot be allowed to get out: His entire family is stark raving mad.

The entire movie then consists of him trying to manage and resolve an increasingly complex and out of control situation involving several men who have been killed and buried in the basement by his sweet old aunts, all the while avoiding being killed by his Karloff-look-alike and homicidal brother. In the end, it is a tremendous relief to discover that he never really belonged in the messed up crazy world of his childhood, because he had another father all along.

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