Arsenic and Old Lace ★★★★

I don't know what it is about the leads in Hitchcock films that make me dislike them until I see them out of Hitchcockland. It happened with James Stewart, who I found rather annoying in Rear Window, but when I saw him in It's a Wonderful Life I immediately got his wonderful appeal. And yes, it happened with Cary Grant in North by Northwest, but I now see why he was a superstar.

I didn't get the appeal of North by Northwest. And although he could really wear a suit, I just didn't like Cary Grant. Perhaps it was the tan. Or just the fact that he was the lead in a Hitchcock film I didn't like. Either way, I wasn't too eager to see him in another film, but after watching Arsenic and Old Lace I like him a hell of a lot better.

Grant's just electric here. I didn't care for his exaggerated facial expressions of complete shock, but they were few and far in between, and there was a lot more of Grant playing the only normal person around in an increasingly crazy film. And he's just great at that. He's the perfect reactor, one of those rare actors who can truly listen.

Arsenic and Old Lace is hilarious. It's so completely morbid that it can only be told as a comedy, and the characters are a great blend of sinister and over-the-top. A couple of characters are quite obviously crazy, and you know that aunts so cloyingly sweet have got to be hiding something. And I was rather beginning to think that Mortimer Brewster, played by Cary Grant, was slowly succumbing to the family disease of insanity as well.

The film features just as much excellent dialogue as it does physical comedy. Everybody overacts like crazy, but it all just works. It was particularly nice to watch Peter Lorre play a perfect blend of slimy oddball and strangely endearing sidekick with wonderful ease.

Arsenic and Old Lace retains its wonderful Capra charm throughout its running time and never once feels like too much. I'm itching to watch it again, but I think I'll save it for a time when I feel like my family is going crazy. No matter how weird we get, nobody can be crazier than those homicidal Brewsters.

(Thank you, Aaron, JC13, and SLionsCricket for recommending this film to me. Because of you guys, I had an excellent Friday afternoon and managed to become a bit of a Cary Grant fan!)