Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
Take Cary's word for it - "It's the funniest picture you'll ever see!"
To me, black and white are just colors. A long while ago, my mother recommended this movie to me, telling me I would have a blast with it and I of course had no reason to doubt her. Being a bit on the aged side, I of course didn't really recognize any of the cast or the likes outside of knowing the name of Cary Grant, so the most I could prejudge it is by the premise of the movie told to me - a premise that sounds absolutely ridiculous. Can this black and white picture have aged like a fine wine, or will we find it to be laced with poison?
As a introductory scroll informs us, some stories in the world are absolutely crazy and yet can sometimes be true. After elaborating a bit, it then informs us that we are now on our own as we experience this one particularly story... A well known critic and writer is getting married to the wonderful girl next door. Being that most of his writings are about how marriage is a sham and he's seen a bit as 'the ultimate bachelor', he's trying to keep it a bit on the down low. After getting it approved, they return home to inform the parental parties - the now-wife's father and the now-husband's aunties. This one little move stems to be what will most likely be the weirdest day of their lives.
While looking for a manuscript for his new book he's decided to not make after getting married, our lead man finds a dead body in the window seat. He worries greatly that his rather strange brother (who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt), is the reason the body is in there, and informs his aunts that they need to send Teddy to the looney bin post haste - to which they let him know that there's no hurry. You see, as he finds out, it wasn't Teddy who killed the man - it was them! The consider it a bit of a charity, making all these incredibly lonely homeless gentlemen who have nobody so incredibly peaceful through their poisonous wine concoction. The more he hears, the more panicked our lead gets, and it starts to lead to quite a bit of tension with his wife (who he ends up telling to go home and sleep, and otherwise flip-flopping his mind as he tries and figure out what to do about the situation with his seemingly murderous aunts).
As if things weren't complicated enough, later in the night the "bad" brother arrives after escaping prison - and brings another body and his plastic surgeon friend along with him. Things at his point go full on loony in the house, as tensions rise between the aunts, the 'bad' brother, and the 'good' brother. Both brothers wish to get the others out of the place, while the aunts want nothing more than to give their recently deceased old gentleman a proper funeral in the basement - where Teddy digs "canals" in "Panama" to bury the "yellow fever" victims. By the time we get close to the end, the biggest question on our minds is whether or not anyone in this movie is sane in the slightest way!
I'm not going to lie, it's a bit dated. As can be seen in the pictures and trailers, it's pre-color so you can expect a lot of black, white, and shades of grey. This doesn't detriment the movie too much, as it's very much similar to a play in how it's presented - and if anything the black and white contrast really helps a couple of the darker scenes pop. This play-like nature also bleeds into the acting, down to how the little old aunties have a bit of a hop to their step as they go to and fro across the set and the facial expressions on most of the characters. To some extent, even the sets look like those one would find on a play in presentation.
Although audio is clearly understandable, it is also a bit dated - completely workable and by far not as bad as much older movies, but it's not the same levels of crips and quality of modern recordings either. It's also notable that there isn't much in the lines of background music. Sure, one will hear a hymn from the aunts, or the piano that Teddy is playing, but actual background music as we are accustomed to it doesn't crop up - again, I believe this may be directly related to the fact that it's very much a play in nature.
While the presentation of the movie may be a bit dated, the humor present certainly isn't. Part of the reason I came back to watch it again is because I so enjoyed it's little wit and puns so much in the first place that I've actually gone out with the family to watch it in a local theater when they put the play on - and I enjoyed it just as much there. Craziness has the benefit of being rather random in nature - we don't expect these sweet little old ladies to be poisoning people and being so happy about it, and we don't expect it when suddenly Teddy goes storming up the stairs to a cheerful "Charge!". Although it can feel a little slow to start, possibly even a bit less funny than I may be making it off to be, by the end if you aren't amused by the running Boris Karloff gag, the Teddy gag, or the line corrections on the fly ("You're Mr. Witherspoon") then I guess I really don't know what to tell you. That being said, it isn't the same sort of funny as a Chris Farley movie (for example).
If you haven't figured it out, yes I recommend people check this one out. It's old, but the premise is incredibly kooky and the presentation - although dated - is just a ball to watch. The apt facial expressions and the little details like giddy old lady bouncing steps should be enough to put a smile on the average person's face, and the plot is certainly something you haven't really seen before. The cast does a wonderful job of acting, and at points the flick even starts to describe how ridiculous parts of itself are, adding that little bit of fourth-wall humor that isn't always pulled off the best. If you find a copy to rent, or a friend to loan it to you, take a watch at the very least - I'm pretty sure you won't be disappointed.