Archive for October 3rd, 2012

by Pat Perry

Few black comic tropes are as irresistible as the juxtaposition of sweetly oblivious little old ladies and murder. It was used to wonderful effect in THE LADYKILLERS, with ever-helpful Katie Johnson blissfully unaware of her boarders’ intention to do away with her, and it is arguably even funnier in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, where the little old ladies themselves are the killers.

The Brewster sisters, Abby and Martha, are the sort of sweet Christian spinsters of whom the cop on their Brooklyn neighborhood beat rhapsodizes “They’re two of the dearest, sweetest, kindest, old ladies that ever walked the earth… they’re like pressed rose leaves!” And indeed they are. Abby (Josephine Hull) is a happy, chubby cherub of a woman, so full of life that she actually bounces when she walks. Her more reserved sister, Martha (Jean Adair) is the epitome of prim propriety.

What none of their neighbors suspect is that the “Room for Rent” sign in their front-yard is a lure for lonely old men, potential boarders whom the sisters send on to happier lives in the great beyond by serving them homemade elderberry wine liberally laced with a mixture of arsenic, strychnine and cyanide. There’s no malice in their actions; the sisters fervently believe they are performing a Christian charity for men whose lives hold no further promise. They even go to the trouble of donning black gowns and reading “services” over the men’s burial site.

About that burial site: the sisters press their even crazier brother, Teddy, into service to help with the disposal of the bodies. Teddy (John Alexander) who believes himself to be Theodore Roosevelt (he even ascends the stairs in the house as if they were San Juan Hill by brandishing a sword and screaming “CHA-A-A-A-RGE!!”) is routinely dispatched to the cellar to “dig the Panama Canal” after which he is given a “yellow fever victim” for immediate burial. (more…)

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Copyright © 2012 by James Clark

On the first night of her summer vacation from boarding school, taking place at her parents’ rural home amidst timber country, a fourteen-year-old girl, Alice, resolves to defy those parents’ preference that she get a good, normal night’s sleep and instead gets started with writing a diary. The first entry we see is puzzling, but, then again, maybe not. It shows her, again insomniac, quietly making her way to the bathroom adjacent to the multi-bed dorm. First she goes to a stall, lifts the toilet seat to enable her to nearly immerse her anus and vagina, and also leave a mark on her cheeks, and then she pees copiously. She has locked the stall from within, and therefore a good friend, who had noticed her leaving her bed, cannot join her and can only cry out, again and again, “What are you doing?” Perhaps we have to give Alice more credit for constructing a coherent diary than we were first inclined to grant, because that question—in face of a flood of urine and cigarette ashes, extending to her hands and other parts of her body as well as the whole bathroom floor—captures the eerie persistence in body fluids our protagonist hurls herself into with only the vaguest of directives to guide her—like a young Marie Curie, or, perhaps closer to the mark, like a young Joan of Arc. (Like those predecessors, the film [produced in 1976] and its author suffered extreme physical violence, undergoing a ban that lasted twenty-five years.) (more…)

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