Here is a movie that would make you believe, from the synopsis, that it’s a gothic horror movie. Theatrical critic Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) has just married the girl of his dreams, Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane). He’s so happy that he takes her to see his dear old aunts before they go on honeymoon to Niagara Falls. His two aunts are two very old, but very sweet ladies who take in unfortunates from the streets, and take care of their brother, an insane nutbag who thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt. Too bad for Mortiner, who sadly finds out his two aunts are actually murderers who poison people they find unhappy, in what they call an act of mercy. Things take a turn for the worse when his brother, an escaped criminal who looks like Boris Karloff, and an accomplice doctor return to the childhood home.
This is one of Frank Capra’s most recognizable and classic films, mainly known because of Cary Grant’s exaggerated comedic performance, which apparently he hated, although I don’t know why since it fits the situation quite well. Yes, this is a full-on comedy, not a horror movie. It was based on a Broadway play, and you can tell, since it’s mostly done on five main sets. So being based on a stage play, it’s the acting that really drives the film. Cary Grant is great as I said, and Priscilla Lane, who I had previously seen in Hitchcock’s Saboteur, is also sweet as the romantic lead, and funny in her few scenes. The two old ladies are my favorite characters, portrayed by Jean Adair and the legendary Josephine Hull (who was also in Harvey). They’re funny and sympathetic, but obviously insane, which makes it even more entertaining. They also have the best lines (‘we will not give a funeral to a stranger’). Raymond Massey and Peter Lorre play the two ‘antagonists’. Massey was a fine actor, but I must say that he didn’t really keep me motivated in this film. I would have preferred if Karloff had played him, it would have made the Karloff jokes funnier. On the other hand, Peter Lorre plays his typical nervous German type, smiling and looking serious at the same time. He would continue this type of role in the Corman Poe films in the 60’s.
Frank Capra’s directing is very well done. It’s hard to make a movie like this and keep it entertaining, especially considering the few locations. He mixes comedy with some genuinely creepy sequences, and I’m particularly talking about the scene where Massey and Lorre come into the basement to burry the man they had killed. The lighting is excellent, almost film noir. Kapra is one of the greatest directors to ever live, and this is one of his best films.