A bit critical

“I can save time if I write my review on the way to the theater.” –Mortimer Brewster

Arsenic and Old Lace (IMDB), a hit play and Capra film, was done by several radio anthology series.

Here it is by “Best Plays,” from July 1952. (If an audio player is not visible above, click on the series name to download an MP3 file.)

This radio adaptation has Donald Cook as theater critic Mortimer Brewster and Boris Karloff, from the original Broadway cast, as family psychopath Jonathan Brewster. Capra had Cary Grant as Mortimer and Raymond Massey as Jonathan, but kept the original play’s line saying Jonathan “looked like Boris Karloff.”

Are theater critics “journalists”? They certainly were on the minds of playwrights and film-makers, as I’ve discussed here before. And if they worked for a newspapers, they shared the newsroom culture that often included a shifting from beat to beat. Walter Winchell rather famously went from theater critic and Broadway columnist to newspaper and radio columnist full of information and opinions on everything from gangland to Hitler’s Germany.

While not as interested in “hard news,” Mortimer Brewster says he is off to “cover a play,” as a reporter might say he was off to cover a court hearing or council meeting. One of his aunts mentions that he actually hates the theater and was happier writing about real estate before being forced into the night job, which may be reflected in his decidedly critical approach to criticism.

Whatever his dedication to his craft, it is understandably tested when he discovers that his aunties have a cadaver in the window seat. In an attempt to deal with this crisis, he calls the office to find a last-minute substitute to review that night’s play.

His suggested candidates include an office-boy and one of the printers at the newspaper… with a joke that his substitute might turn into “another John Chapman” — the New York Daily News critic who was the host of “Best Plays.”

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who found computers & the Web in grad school in the 1980s (Wesleyan) and '90s (UNC); taught journalism, media studies, Web production; retired to write, make music, photograph sunsets & walks in the woods.
This entry was posted in 1950s, adaptations, Capra, critics, movies. Bookmark the permalink.

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