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arsnic and old lace

February 11, 2010

The first thing you notice about this film is that the sets are horribly cheap and fake.  Frank Capra did this as a quick money maker before getting involved in the Why We Fight series during the war, and it’s hilarious.  With Cary Grant, Josephine Hull, and Peter Lorre, the cast couldn’t be better.  But then you see the sets and you wonder what’s going on.  The opening scene of a fight at a World Series game on Halloween seems equally incongruous.  What does that have to do with anything?  In addition, the Series never lasted until Halloween in those days. 

But Capra stays with it, going over the top with more self-reflexive material all through the film.  Grant has a long speech describing exactly what’s happening to him as evil brother Johnathan ties him up and how stupid it was when he saw it in a play.  To make the technique even more obvious, he mentions that this often happens in movies too.  Later, he mentions how no one in plays ever pays attention to what anyone else says to them, and that’s exactly what happens here.

The idea of laughing so hard at two serial killers is always a little bothersome, even if they are two silly old ladies.  So I think making everything so obviously phony, and then having the characters describe it that way, was a great choice.  Considering the times as well, maybe getting used to multiple deaths, or learning that we could come through it and be all right, were good ideas to present as well.  Though maybe in the end, we all belong in the sanitarium with the Brewster sisters too.

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