Third in the spring series of Movies at the Library (at the Center firehouse) on Tuesday, April 24 at 7 p.m. is one of the all-time great classic comedies of stage and then film. On stage, it is still performed by summer stock companies all across America and the film adaptation is so good no one has dared attempt a remake. It is, of course, “Arsenic and Old Lace.”
It comes with a pedigree few can match, starting with director Frank Capra. His first movie was in 1922 and 12 years later, he hit his stride with “It Happened One Night.” He followed up with a string of unforgettable and still fabulous comedies with “Lost Horizon” sandwiched in between. He gave us “It’s a Wonderful Life” in 1946. But 1944 belongs to “Arsenic and Old Lace.”
Capra assembled a cast that is the crème de la crème, including the actress who created the role of Abby Brewster on Broadway, Josephine Hull. He also cast her fellow New York star Jean Adair as her sister, Martha. But those two were virtually unknown to movie audiences so Capra needed someone like Cary Grant, who plays the Brewster nephew, Mortimer. He is joined by Raymond Massey, Peter Lorre and Edward Everett Horton.
The play is by Joseph Kesselring, his most successful. Of opening night, the New York Times said, “It was so funny, none of us will ever forget it.” It ran for 1,444 performances! The film version was taken up by an unexpected duo, the Epstein Brothers who are, still today, best remembered for their “Casablanca” screenplay.
The story centers on Grant who, as he prepares to marry, discovers that his two lovable and seemingly harmless old lady aunts are more than makers of a really fine elderberry wine.
The film is in black and white, lasting 118 irresistibly delicious minutes. So we’ll see you at the movies!