#65 Arsenic and Old Lace

Watched: December 14 2016

Director: Frank Capra

Starring: Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Peter Lorre, Raymond Massay, Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, John Alexander

Year: 1944

Runtime: 1h 58min

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Theatre critic Mortimer Brewster (Grant), against his convictions, is getting married to Elaine (Lane). While they get hitched, his sweet old murderous aunts (Hull & Adair) entertain his new father-in-law along with Teddy “Roosevelt” (Alexander), Mortimer’s insane brother. And the body of their latest victim.

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Murderous and adorable!

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On their way to their honeymoon, Mortimer and Elaine stop by Dark and Godless Brooklyn to greet their relatives, and Mortimer stumbles across the dead body in the window seat and panics. Naturally. He is then completely shocked to find that his lovable aunts committed the deed and not only this one! They have so far killed 12 men and had Teddy bury them in the cellar.

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“But… They looked so peaceful after we poisoned them. So relaxed. We can’t see that we’ve done anything wrong!”

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While Mortimer tries to sort out the mess and have Teddy institutionalized to take the blame (without serving prison time), another brother shows up to further complicate things. Jonathan (Massey) is also insane, but more in the I’ll-kill-you-and-everything-you’ve-ever-loved kind of way and not the bugle blowing, stair charging way of innocent Teddy. He also brings his own plastic surgeon, Dr Einstein (Lorre – who does not age!). Oh, and their very own body to be disposed of.

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Guess who was the inspiration for Einstein’s latest surgical miracle?

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Mortimer, as the only sane member of the family, desperately tries to make everything right while also protecting his more loveable relatives. And the results are very silly, very funny and also strangely suspenseful. Grant’s face is EVERYTHING in this film, and aunt Abby (Hull) is one of the most adorable murderers in history. Poor Lane doesn’t really get much to work with though, despite her being billed second on the poster (though, we realise, not the one we chose to go with for this blog..). She’s mainly there to serve as another complication for Grant and perhaps to represent sanity in this insane world.

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As if Cary Grant isn’t perfectly capable of representing sanity on his own!

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Arsenic and Old Lace is a silly and hilarious farce which we absolutely loved. The spinster sisters living together weren’t in any way a glimpse into our own futures at all! No sir. There’s no way we’ll ever be able to afford a house like that…

What we learned: Brooklyn is not part of U.S. proper. Also, inbreeding is never a good idea…

Next time: Double Indemnity (1944)

#58 The Maltese Falcon

Watched: November 04 2016

Director: John Huston

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Gladys George, Jerome Cowan, Lee Patrick, Sydney Greenstreet

Year: 1941

Runtime: 1h 40min

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Samuel Spade (Bogart) is a San Francisco P.I. working with partner Miles Archer (Cowan). One day, a dame (Astor) walks into their office. And what a dame. Legs up to here and an air of desperation about her. Just the way Spade likes’em.

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Desperation and a stole. Spade smells an easy payday.

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Now, this dame is looking for her missing sister, and she knows the lowlife who has her. She pays up for a stakeout and Archer, whose wife Spade is incidentally screwing, ends up dead on the job. Spade has a fairly laissez-faire attitude about the whole thing and proceeds to remove Archer’s name from the company window and door. He is nothing if not efficient and practical.

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The whole brooding private detective thing works better as a solo act anyway

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Of course, the dame isn’t telling the truth. She’s lied about her name, her intentions, and the identity of the man she wanted located. In fact, she’s caught up in an international conspiracy involving a golden falcon artefact, more than a few shady characters and several murders. It’s not long before Spade has a new visitor – Joel Cairo (Lorre) who tries to get the jump on the P.I. But one does not simply walk into Spade’s office and threaten him. Or, if one does, one leaves with one’s tail between one’s legs. Or in a body bag. Luckily for Cairo, the former is the option Spade goes with. This time.

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He’ll take you out without even dropping his smoke

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Once Spade is properly roped in, the dame, whose real name is possibly Brigid O’Shaughnessy, although she goes by several pseudonyms, drops her act and comes clean. More or less. Meanwhile, Spade has his own fun, pitting the various bad guys against each other and playing on their greed to manipulate them.

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“You know you need to sacrifice your little pet here, right?”

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The Maltese Falcon is a classic for very good reasons. It’s a wild ride from start to finish and Bogart is amazing in it, as are the others, but he really steals the show (along with his secretary Effie (Patrick), who we also loved). Spade is cynical and tough, but he also has a lot of fun and seems to enjoy his work and the challenges his opponents throw at him. Despite his methods (and his relationship with his partner’s wife) he has his own moral compass, and not even a desperate dame can make him stray from his convictions.

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All this drama for a statuette. Foreigners!

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Love this one – can’t wait for more noir!

What we learned: don’t get caught up in a drama revolving around a figurine. Also, never try to make a detective into a criminal.

Next time: Cat People (1942)

#35 The Man Who Knew Too Much

Watched: September 21 2016 (delayed Blu-Ray delivery meant we couldn’t watch in order)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Peter Lorre, Edna Best, Leslie Banks, Nova Pilbeam

Year: 1934

Runtime: 1h 15min

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Jill (Best) and Bob (Banks) Lawrence have brought their daughter Betty (Pilbeam) on a holiday in the Swiss alps, expecting no trouble apart from stories to bore their friends with upon returning to England. They befriend a Frenchman called Louis who is assassinated on the dance floor on his last day at the resort.

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Literally assassinated – not just served

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Before he dies, he manages to give Jill instructions about a very important message which must be brought to the British consul. Bob retrieves the message from the dead man’s room, but before the couple has time to talk to anyone from the consul, they receive a note saying their daughter is kidnapped and will be killed if they talk.

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“Is it worth it though, darling? I mean, we could always make another. How fond of her are you really..?”

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The Lawrences decide not to risk their only child’s life and return to London pretending Betty’s with an aunt in Paris and not at all kidnapped and held by some secret society plotting the assassination of a foreign dignitary. Since they cannot confide in the police, Lawrence goes after the bad guys himself and manages to track them down rather easily.

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When in doubt, gas and impersonate a dentist until you overhear the information you need. Works nine times out of ten!

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Of course, it goes as it must, and soon both father and daughter are hostages. It’s up to Mama to save the day.

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“This never would have happened to Liam Neeson. Damn my lack of a particular set of skills!”

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We won’t reveal the ending (except to mention that there’s a shoot out!), but we urge you to watch this film. There’s suspense, intrigue, international politics and espionage, and there’s Peter Lorre being almost as creepy as he was in M. There are also some truly hilarious scenes, such as when Bob and friend/cohort Clive sing messages to each other in church and the ensuing chair fight with organ music accompaniment. Hitchcock really knew how to build suspense (in case no one’s pointed this out before) and while this is a fairly early work compared to some of his more famous masterpieces, The Man Who Knew Too Much is still a good example of his skills. The silence helps build the tension (there’s no score for most of the film) and some of the scenes literally had us on the edge of our seats.

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How did they end up on the roof? Will they get down? Why is his head so big? Who are these people anyway? Watch the movie to have at least three of these questions answered!

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What we learned: Peter Lorre used to be typecast as a child killer. Dentists are always in on evil plots.

Next time: The Scarlet Empress (1934)

#18 M

Watched: August 17 2016

Director: Fritz Lang

Starring: Peter Lorre, Otto Wernicke

Year: 1931

Runtime: 1h 50min

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We absolutely loved this film! It’s definitely going on our favourites list, and we cannot believe it took us this long to actually watch this classic when we’ve heard about it forever.

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This is pretty much a perfect summary of the plot

A German town is plagued by a serial killer who preys on young children. The local police are getting nowhere and the organized crime bosses decide to get in on the manhunt as the killer is bad for business. They put together the best neighbourhood watch squad ever – beggars. The police and the criminals get on the killer’s trail around the same time, and we follow the three parties (including the killer himself) towards the climax of the film.

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“What is the meaning of this? Have they labelled me a Mark? A Murderer? A Mango?”

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In the end, we are treated to the eternal debate of what to do with a compulsive killer who claims he cannot help himself. Peter Lorre gives an outstanding performance as Hans Beckert – despite his despicable actions, he is somewhat believable as he begs for his life and pretty much pleads insanity (although his claims aren’t quite compatible with the fact that he sent the police and press taunting letters).

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When even the criminals want you dead, you know you done fucked up!

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It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it was we loved so much about this, but here are a few things that stood out:

  • Extremely cool long shots
  • Serial killer hunt (it’s our kryptonite)
  • Great visuals
  • Awesome shot compositions
  • The amazing cross-cutting between the police and the local gangsters
  • The performances
  • The use of shadows
  • The killer whistling “In the Hall of the Mountain King”
  • Basically everything about it.

We strongly urge anyone who hasn’t seen this film to make it a priority. It’s worth it.

Things we learned: everyone has a responsibility to look after the children. Also, we really like dark stuff. Like, really.

Next time: Monkey Business (1931) Apparently 1931 was a good year for movies!