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The joy of an old movie

Published September 04. 2010 09:00AM

Society is so fast paced and we have such a tendency to look for the "next new thing" that we sometimes miss the old things that are still good such as films.

Kathryn was watching a children's show on PBS before we ate dinner last Friday and after we got done cleaning up in the kitchen, we returned to the living room to settle in and watch some television for the evening. Normally we watch something on TLC or the Food Network, but we coincidentally ended up in the room just in time to catch the film "Arsenic and Old Lace".

If you haven't caught this old Cary Grant film from legendary director Frank Capra, then you are really missing one of the most entertaining comedies of the 1940s in my opinion. I first saw the film in a literature class in high school when we read the play and our teacher showed us the film over a few periods, but that was over 20 years ago. I remembered it was funny then, but now watching it again with 20 years of living under my belt, it was much more entertaining.

The film takes place over the afternoon and evening at the home of author and drama critic Mortimer Brewster's two elderly aunts. Brewster, a vocal critic of marriage who actually authored a book condemning the institution, marries the rector's daughter and returns home to tell his aunts only to quickly learn that not only did his aunt murder an old man, but the aunts together have murdered a dozen lonely gentlemen who came to the home and accepted the lethal charity of the delightful but crazy women.

Add to that a brother who thinks he is President Teddy Roosevelt and spends his days charging the staircase believing all the while it is San Juan Hill and that the basement is Panama, and Mortimer has his hands full. In fact the aunts take advantage of brother Teddy's delusions to use his trips to "Panama" as a way of burying the bodies. They dispose of them by asking Teddy to dig locks and then they show him the poisoned men while telling him they died of yellow fever and need to be interred.

For Mortimer what begins as a quick stop to tell his aunts he is married quickly descends into a farcical mess as he tries to keep his aunts from poisoning any more callers while also trying to get Teddy committed to keep the aunts from continuing in their delusional homicidal tendencies. Add to that a crazy escaped felon of an older brother dragging along a quack plastic surgeon played by master character actor Peter Lorre as Dr. Einstein who both decide to frame the aunts with their own murder victim and Brewster discovers far more madness than he bargained for.

The film becomes a fantastically funny romp as this bizarre situation unravels and becomes crazier and funnier as time passes and Brewster desperately tries to juggle his new marriage, his crazy aunts, loony brother and homicidal older brother in an attempt to save the day. The craziness continues to build to a climax that creates a great deal of laughter and enjoyment as only the master Frank Capra can provide.

While I have seen the movie before, my wife Katie had not and of course neither did Kathryn although she spent most of the film playing with her toys. In the end, she enjoyed it and I loved seeing this classic once again. Even though the movie was about murder and mayhem, it was done in such a delightful absent minded manner with no deaths on screen that the movie was more about the aftermath rather than the act. Watching Grant try to keep people from drinking the poisoned wine and deal with his aunts in a loving but moral way and slowly becoming more flustered as the movie continues was a riot.

It definitely was a two hours well invested and one of my favorite films of all time. I think it could definitely hold its own with many other films if not best them even though there were no real special effects and it seemed more like a theatrical play than what we have come to expect from films today.

It brought to mind the old double features on Saturdays that were Dr. Shock's Double Feature or Uncle Ted's Mystery Theater. Of course these shows for the most part replayed old horror and suspense films, but many of them were also pretty good for their day. I hardly ever missed a film with Godzilla and always tried to watch the King Kong vs. Godzilla movie. I still think that's a pretty cool disaster film too.

Some of the best movies were the classic Vincent Price, Roger Corman directed films as well as the old classics, Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman and the Mummy. My favorite actors included Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Sr. and Jr. Those were great memories and the best part of those films was watching them with my dad or my grandfathers.

I hope as Kathryn gets older to give her an appreciation for film and books so she understands the beauty of the written word and the visual experiences as well as using her mind and imagination. Things may age, but that doesn't mean they always get old sometimes they are just better.

Til next time …

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