//Ad libs: A truly classic classic

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A truly classic classic

Whenever I have friends in town, I always seem to take them to the Stanford Theatre. Even if the movie stinks (rare), everybody likes it when the theater organist disappears into the floor.

Recently we saw
“Arsenic and Old Lace.” I will lose my membership in the People Who Really, Really Like Theater Club for saying this, but I have never seen the play or the film. I thought it would be something gloomy. Two old women driven to homicide by tragic events.

Nope. The movie was ridiculously funny, filled with slapstick, rushing-around humor, the kind of comedy that my actor sig-oth calls “a lot of door-slamming.” As for the old women, they happily admit to offing a dozen gentlemen callers. The whole family’s up in the clouds (including a guy who thinks he's
Teddy Roosevelt) except for poor nephew Cary Grant, who runs in circles trying to figure out what to do about the bodies in the cellar. Maybe you shouldn’t laugh so hard, but you do.

One of the movie's strengths is that it still feels like a play. Most of the plot takes place in the aunts' front room, which on film creates a claustrophobic effect and makes Grant seem even more ridiculously trapped. And everyone has comic timing fit for the theater.

It’s easy to think of Grant as just suave and to forget what a natural he was at humor. But he just keeps rolling it out, making even a silly joke seem fresh. (“I am not throwing you out of the house. I am not throwing you out of the house. I am not throwing you out of the house. Will you get out of here?”)

Today I went online to learn more about the movie, and learned from
IMDb that Grant detested his performance in “Arsenic,” saying it was over the top. Oh, what does he know.