Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944): What's in the wine and in the window seat?

Title: Arsenic and Old Lace
Director: Frank Capra
Language: English
Rating: Not Rated

"Insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops."

So says Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant), a drama critic who at the start of the movie gets married to Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane) after years of confirmed bachelorhood. En route to their honeymoon, they stop by the house of Mortimer's kindly old aunts, Abby (Josephine Hull) and Martha (Jean Adair), who are known in their community as generous women, donating toys to poor children, visiting the sick, and performing other charitable acts.

As Mortimer discovers, after a look under their window seat in the front parlor, their idea of charity also includes killing off lonely old men. It takes some time for Mortimer to wrap his head around the fact that his aunts could be doing this.
Mortimer: What happened to him?!
Martha: He died.
Mortimer: Look, Aunt Martha, men don't just get into window seats and die!
Abby: Look now, dear, he died first.

Up until that point, Mortimer had assumed his family's madness was confined to his older brother, Teddy (John Alexander), who believes he's Teddy Roosevelt - and that his family's darker impulses were confined to his other brother Jonathan (Raymond Massey), a sadist who hasn't been seen in 20 years (but of course will show up, with Peter Lorre in tow to up the creep factor).

Meantime, Elaine - who doesn't know what's going on - is wondering why Mortimer suddenly seems so absent-minded and panicky, so unready to embark on their life of wedded bliss. (When there are too many bats in the family belfry, is wedded bliss possible?)

Arsenic And Old Lace Poster.jpg
"Arsenic And Old Lace Poster". Via Wikipedia.

Priscilla Lane has a thankless role as a woman who spends most of the movie getting shoved aside and bodily carried out of rooms. As for Cary Grant, his performance took some getting used to because it was too hammy (like, huge double-takes and expressions of HUH?). The other actors, especially Hull, Adair, Massey and Alexander, were spot-on in their roles. Also, Jack Carson in the role of a friendly but oblivious policeman.

It's a strange, funny dark comedy, which frays at the end like many comedies. There are hilarious scenes, numerous twists, and jokes that take time to develop and pay off. Fun for any time of year, but especially Halloween, if like me you prefer to avoid gory slasher/monster movies.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Autumn Hike: Franny Reese State Park and Walkway Over the Hudson

Here's a blueprint for a brilliant hike in the autumn.

Take the Metro North from Grand Central Station in NYC. The view from the train window, the Hudson River:


Get off at the train station in Poughkeepsie (last stop on the Hudson line):


Walk south, paying attention to what some of the buildings are called. (Washington Irving is a major literary figure in these parts.)


Cross the Mid-Hudson Bridge on foot (this isn't the famous pedestrian bridge in the area, but it has a footpath, so you can share the bridge with motor vehicle traffic).


Look at different signs on the bridge.


Then look north along the Hudson.

Because that other bridge you see? That's the Walkway Over the Hudson. It's the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world, and it's where you'll be ending your hike.


Fall foliage is stunning.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Week in Seven Words #230 & #231


Stolid and tall, drifting ahead of us like the mast on a ship.

Red and yellow kayaks, like slices of fruit candy, bobbing on the river.

They work hard to create the impression of a shared reality, even as their hearts splinter.

We have no solutions, only complaints. But it's reassuring to find people who complain about the same things. The shared noise is heartening.

The whine of pigeons flapping by my ears.

Fisherman by the railroad tracks, what will he find? Rubbery fish? Tires that have come alive with fins and scales?

Harried women in a chilly supermarket; they're carefully made-up, their eyes fogged.


In a battle that spans multiple eras and realms, who will win: Plants or zombies?

The pond is still and lets the sky steal across it. It's a safe place for the sky to settle down a short while. No waves or ripples will chase away the clouds.

Goal: To rush to the end of the piece and then dance away from the keyboard.

One trait I want to avoid as much as possible is fretfulness. I don't want to lie prostrate before my fear and call attention to myself with it.

He had the vague hope that if he stopped doing anything, time itself would stop. Instead it's flowing around him and nudging him along, while he struggles to keep his footing.

I like community gardens grown in old broken places. A part of the city once scarred now bears vegetables and redolent plants.

Enough people say they like something, so then others like it too. And some dislike it just because too many others like it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Salem, Massachusetts in October: 25 Photos

(From a half-day visit on Columbus Day.)

The Witch House

(It's the home of Jonathan Corwin, one of the judges involved in the Salem witch trials of the late 1600s.)

The Custom House

(At the Salem Maritime National Historic Park.)

Ropes Mansion Garden

(This garden is in back of a home dating to the early 1700s.)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Week in Seven Words #228 & 229


Three teenagers are sitting on a bench, arms around each other, looking for the moon in a daytime sky.

The silence on the path isn't true silence. The trees are bristling, and animals are scraping unseen against dirt. My feet are crunching on loose rock. The silence is the absence of human voice.

People who tell me to "be myself" often mean "be a self that I approve of and am comfortable with."

When I read beneath the green branches, bugs fall onto my book like extra punctuation.

In part because it's dwarfed by a flag pole, one gets the sense that the old stone building, crouched on the ground, has a small room in it with a door, and that this door opens to a flight of stairs that takes you miles below the city.

Wedding photos in the park - the bride's train sweeping over fallen green leaves.

The shop, dark as a cavern, smells of soap and herbs.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Angry protective swan

In this case, a father swan swatting and hissing at the rescue worker who's trying to extract a cygnet from a fence.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Week in Seven Words #226 & 227


There's never sunlight on that door, only a cold, still shade.

A ballerina soars across a corrugated roof.

I can see in his expression when he knows he's gone too far, but decides to keep going anyway. He forces himself to enjoy his own rudeness, his own petty cruelty, because the alternative is to be flooded with shame.

Oval windows frame the reflection of trees and purple flowers.

Flopping facedown on the couch: Endurance and patience have been mostly depleted - time to recharge.

Is laughter always a fear response? I think laughter and fear are closely linked. Even when we don't think we're laughing in relief or in nervousness, the jokes we laugh at tap into our anxieties about ourselves. We laugh at things we might become or misfortunes we narrowly avoided. We laugh in acceptance of something odd that might have been dangerous, but is merely strange and possibly wonderful.

Flower-bearing trees rustling against fire escapes.


He runs his hand up and down his face, as if clearing away cobwebs from his eyes.

The smell of sweat and coffee beans. Tinny music seeping out of headphones.

I am, once again, short on compassion for myself.

He defines a happy marriage as one that hasn't ended in divorce, not seeming to realize that people may spend a lifetime together in varying states of indifference and hostility.

The air quivering, a dim light in the tunnel brightening, then the racket as the train enters the subway station.

Last light of day slanting onto an empty purple vase.

He is calm and diplomatic. Even when listening to an unreasonable request, he has the look of someone contemplating rare wisdom.