Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

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Food: Bar Veloce is an underrated East Village spot. It is quiet, has excellent happy hour deals, open windows exposing the street, and delicious bruschetta dishes. I got the “red wine” on Happy Hour (they have red, white or prosecco options) and went with the sample plate special which includes three bruschette. My selection included the prosciutto di parma (fig tartare, pine nuts, rosemary), the bruschetta veloce (anchovy, mozzarella, caper pesto), and the fresh ricotta di bufala (truffled olive oil, black pepper) which was all really fresh and tasty.

Film: “Arsenic and Old Lace” (1944) is a dark comedy made by Frank Capra, who is most well known for his beloved “It’s A Wonderful Life.” It is an adaptation of a Broadway play by Joseph Kesselring, written in 1939. Starring Cary Grant, as Mortimer Brewster, and Priscilla Lane, as Elaine Harper, the story takes place on Halloween – a fitting omen. Brewster and Lane decide to tie the knot that morning, and rush to their respective family homes to deliver the news, when things take an unexpected twist.

Brewster is greeting his aunts (played hilariously by Josephine Hull and Jean Adair) when he finds a corpse in the window seat. In an all too casual confrontation with his sweet elders, they speak of their hobby as a charity for lonely men. Instead of, god forbid, leaving them to live out their isolated lives without any loved ones, they give them a sip of their wine flavored cocktail – “For a gallon of elderberry wine, I take one teaspoon full of arsenic, then half a teaspoon full of strychnine, and then just a pinch of cyanide,” Martha Brewster proudly explains – and kill them off, burying them in their cellar and adorning the graves with flowers once a week.

As Moritmer Brewster discovers this grim pastime of theirs, he frantically tries to keep his newlywed wife from being exposed to their shenanigans, and balances a series of hiccups along the one. One of those being his brother, the Frankenstein looking Jonathan Brewster (Raymond Massey), returning with a corpse of his own. Moritmer, upon realizing just how deranged his family seems to be, begins to regret pulling poor Elaine into the mix with him. “Look I probably should have told you this before but you see… well… insanity runs in my family… It practically gallops.” 

Grant absolutely nails the theatrical facial expressions and line delivery with the mastery of a comedic genius. With one slapstick moment after another, “Arsenic and Old Lace” is a silly, fast-paced and delightfully creepy tale that is perfect to ring in the spooky season – that being Halloween.


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