Friday, March 24, 2006

Arsenic and Old Lace

Warner Bros.
Director: Frank Capra
Length: 117 min.
Country: USA
Format: DVD
Date Viewed: 12 March, 2006

Capra's Arsenic and Old Lace is a flawed film that is still pretty enjoyable, but could have been so much better. Peter Lorre is outstanding as per usual, and the dialogue is hilarious, as are many of the pitch black ideas in the screenplay.

The script does not get off the hook that easy, though. It is way too long, and should have been no more than 90 minutes in length - the film runs out of steam at about that point, and we begin looking at our watches for the last half-hour.

Grant's performance also hurts the movie, though it appears that Capra may have been to blame for this. Apparently, Capra felt that an America entering WWII (keep in mind this was filmed in 1941 but not released for three years) needed something zany to liven up the very dark core of the film and national war-time climate, and instructed Grant to wildly overact. Grant, later admitting that he disliked the decision and indeed considered this to be the worst performance of his career, went along with it and goes so over-the-top that it can only inspire plenty of eye-rolling in all but the youngest viewer.

The question then is why Capra made this decision? If he wanted to make a black comedy, why not go for the gold? Otherwise, why not just direct a light and zany comedy? His foolish decision decidedly kept Arsenic and Old Lace from being a great example of dark comedy done right; I guess we'll just have to settle for pretty good.


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