Window Seats and Poisoned Wine: Arsenic and Old Lace

HALLOWEEN 2011: BY CAITLIN HORTON

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We begin our tale on October 31st, where a man named Mortimer Brewster finds himself in line to get a marriage license. His blushing bride, Elaine Harper, stands a good head shorter than he and kindly ignores the fact that he is both a dramatic critic and anti-matrimonial minded bloke. Everything goes according to plan and he happily takes his wife back to her home to pack, which happens to be right across the street from where his sweet, elderly spinster aunts, Abby and Martha, reside. Abby and Martha are as charming as their historic abode and take care of their peculiar nephew, Teddy, who believes himself to be President Theodore Roosevelt.

Mortimer feels as though he is floating on a cloud, his family is delighted that he finally wed Elaine, and a small celebration is quickly arranged. To ensure that the bride’s father, the honorable Reverend Harper, does not accidentally stumble across the unpublished manuscript to his newest book, Mind Over Matrimony, Mortimer begins to search the quaint sitting room. Up goes the curtain that falls onto the window seat and down comes Mortimer’s cloud of happiness like a lead balloon. For lying in the window seat is a very much deceased elderly gentleman.

Of course one does not expect to find a dead body in a window seat and Mortimer immediately thinks Teddy is to blame. Like most people, he wants to take the easy way out of a nightmare. Sadly, though, his two sweet aunts are responsible for the gentleman’s untimely demise. What’s more, they confess to it! They believe that they are doing lonely old men a charity by killing them with poisoned elderberry wine. The basement then becomes a graveyard for the deceased with a congenial Teddy digging the graves himself and attending the proper graveside service the two old dears perform. Teddy believes all of these dearly departed men to be yellow fever victims.

Throughout this morbid Halloween night, other guests come to call, not the least of which is Teddy and Mortimer’s other brother, Jonathan Brewster, wanted for insidious crimes, and his little tag-along plastic surgeon, Dr. Einstein (yes, that’s his real name). Much to everyone’s shock, Jonathan resembles Boris Karloff; the terrifying result of Dr. Einstein’s drinking habit and fetish for horror movies. Jonathan also brings with him another guest, who also happens to be as dead as the proverbial doornail. Bodies get mixed up and argued over and a steady stream of police officers, insane asylum workers, and a cabby keep the house up all night. And all that time none suspect that the little old ladies have buried thirteen gentlemen in their basement. None except for Mortimer, who strives his very hardest to keep that secret buried, keep himself from going insane, and still make the train for Niagra Falls with his darling little Elaine. Poor chap. He never imagined himself sitting on the stairs, trussed in yards of rope and singing like a crazed canary: “There is a Happy Dale far, far, away.” The quaint little house is like a ticking time bomb, waiting to go off.

About this point you might be wondering what this insane bit of film is called and how it ends. The movie is entitled Arsenic and Old Lace and came out in 1944 but it is still as fresh and funny now as it was then. It ends, most certainly, but you’ll have to find out how on your own. Life is full of surprises, so think of this as one of the best ones. Mortimer is played to perfection by beloved Hollywood leading man Cary Grant, in spite of claiming it was one of his least-favorite roles, and Raymond Massey does a marvelous job as the villainous Jonathan. No matter how many times I have viewed it, the movie never gets old. It is always funny and frightening, but never gruesome, and watching it on Halloween has become a family tradition. I hope that this year it will become your Halloween tradition, too! ■

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 ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Caitlin Horton is a 20-something reader, seamstress, and history buff. She lives a life blessed in the knowledge that she is God’s child, and her life has a purpose within the scope of His plan. She encourages her readers to remember, every day can be like Bilbo’s “adventure” if you’re willing to take the “ordinary” and add some “extra” in front of it! She also blogs about her crafts!

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