10. Your best friend’s recommendation: Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
List Progress: 11/12
A good dark comedy is a thing of beauty. Arsenic and Old Lace, a 1944 classic, has one of the darkest, most serious premises you could think of. A newlywed man comes to visit his beloved spinster aunts who raised him, only to discover that they have secretly become a pair of serial killers, poisoning drifters who come through town looking for a bit of charity. The man decides that the least disastrous course of action is to pin the killings on his deranged brother, only to be thrown off when his other deranged brother has broken out of prison and has carved a bloody path to make it back to his family. It’s a plot right out of a horror thriller, but Arsenic and Old Lace balances the tone perfectly, keeping the comedy light and bubbly to highlight the absurdity of the horror.
Cary Grant stars as the newlywed Mortimer Brewster, and it is clear why Grant has a glowing reputation as both a heartthrob and a clown. He and the two aunts, played by Josephine Hull and Jean Adair, are crucial to making the delicate tonal balancing act work and they are a riot to watch. Some of the elements, like the insane brother who thinks he is Theodore Roosevelt and the easily-distracted cop who wants to be a playwright, can be a bit too silly at times, but are still essential to the overall formula. Arsenic and Old Lace is originally a stage play, and of that lovely brand of comedy that gives an actor a lot of room to go wild.
So as long as you don’t mind a comedy with a body count, Arsenic and Old Lace is a great example of classic Hollywood filmmaking, with a great comic star of the time. And catch it on the stage if you can, and hopefully there will be as strong of a lead as Grant at the helm.
Would I Recommend It: Yes.