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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

A New Year Day Double Treat at the Egyptian

Start the New Year off with a double feature that will make you laugh and fulfill the New Year’s tradition of nostalgia and reminiscing with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein & Arsenic and Old Lace January 1 2007, beginning at 5pm.

While growing up, my family often used the Holidays as an opportunity for the whole extended family to go to the movies together. I think it started on an Easter when there was no particular sport being played on TV and our table of guests had shrunken to a reasonable dozen or so people. My Grandpa suddenly got up from the table and announced that he was taking everybody to see a movie. I remember seeing many monumental films this way, including High Anxiety (my first PG film), Grease and Return of the Jedi; all on Grandpa’s dime.

Although there are a few choice family films out there this Holiday season, I find it difficult to name one that doesn’t pander to a specific age group. To truly capture that spirit of “something for everyone”, I highly recommend catching The Egyptian’s New Year’s Day double feature of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, showing with Frank Capra’s Arsenic and Old Lace. These are two very funny and amusing films that play to many levels of humor and that will neither isolate nor ignore the many ages of their perspective audiences. And for those who either grew up watching them on TV or even saw them in the theaters upon their initial release, it’s a great opportunity for a touch of nostalgia. For those who have never had the opportunity to see either of these wonderful classics, I couldn’t think of a better way to do so for the first time than on the big screen.

The two films make for an inspired pairing for a New Year’s screening, linked by an all-together different holiday – Halloween. Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein is a mass of classic monster run-ins by one of the all-time great comedy duos, Abbott & Costello. And Arsenic and Old Lace is set on a Halloween night in the bygone cozy little neighborhood of Brooklyn. The first film is filled with murdering mythological figures and the second is inhabited with a couple of the sweetest murdering little old ladies you’re ever likely to meet. Although Boris Karloff is not present in either film, he is paid homage in the first by a recreation of his most famous character (Frankenstein’s monster), and mentioned by name as an inferred insult to actor Raymond Massey in the second.

Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein was originally titled The Brain of Frankenstein and did not include the comedy team of Abbott and Costello. It wasn’t until later that the two were enticed to come on board by their favorite director, Charles Barton, who helped to insure that both Lon Chaney Jr. (The Wolfman) and Bela Lugosi (Dracula) reprised the roles they originated for Universal. Boris Karloff was set to once again play Frankenstein’s monster, but scheduling conflicts prevented him from performing (although he did participate in the promotional campaigns). This was the final Universal film to feature Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula and the Wolfman, until Van Helsing in 2004, and ultimately became one of Universal’s highest grossing films of 1948.

Then there's Arsenic and Old Lace. One does not immediately equate the picture as a Frank Capra film. There is a vast list of classic films associated with the Oscar winning director, such as Meet John Doe, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, You Can’t Take It With You and many, many more. As long as that list may be, it would, more likely than not, leave out one of the silliest and sweetest comedy gems of the bunch, Arsenic and Old Lace. Capra’s career was an enviable one that spanned many decades, but arguably, his greatest triumphs and the films that remain dearest to the public’s heart are the ones he made during the height of the studio system, a period that offered an unprecedented and unmatched ability to produce films en masse. Though there were others who maintained an equal output, Capra was a shinning star during Hollywood’s most prolific period, thriving under impossible production schedules. It is due to his abundant output that the perfectly delightful “Arsenic” is lost in the shuffle when one thinks of Frank Capra.

In addition to having a great script executed by a deft hand, Arsenic and Old Lace features a stellar cast of theatrical veterans mixed with some true Hollywood icons, including the undisputed champion of the double take, Cary Grant. Remembered mostly for his roles in sophisticated comedies (To Catch a Thief, An Affair to Remember), it is in roles such as the befuddled and anxious Mortimer Brewster that Cary Grant first made a distinctive name for himself (Bringing Up Baby, Gunga Din). Grant himself actually hated his own performance in his one Capra outing, feeling that it was much too “over the top” (the role was originally crafted for and offered to Jack Benny and Bob Hope). But it is Grant (perhaps his personae more than his performance) who sells the extremely whacky behavior of the previously even-keeled theatre critic who finds that his odd, little family in Brooklyn is more than just a bit eccentric – underneath their sweet dispositions, his adoring two aunts are a pair of kindly old murderers!

Josephine Hull and Jean Adair play Grant’s seemingly docile aunts in a pair of performances that can be described as no less than brilliant as they manage to maintain a nuanced balance of daffiness, vulnerability, and innocence. Raymond Massey is Grant’s long lost homicidal brother (made up to be a dead ringer for Boris Karloff) whose constant companion is a psychotic plastic surgeon, beautifully portrayed by Peter Lorre. Rounding out the madness is a clueless local beat cop with aspirations of becoming a Broadway playwright, played by the extremely versatile and underappreciated character actor Jack Carson. He plays the flatfoot with an “aw shucks” earnestness that can only by described as pure Capra.

These two comedies are sure to offer a film-going experience that will satisfy audiences of all ages and allow families of all shapes and sizes the opportunity to share in the tradition of going to the movies. Take advantage of this opportunity this New Year’s Day and begin a family tradition of your own.

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