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 sank into computers and the Web during graduate school in the 1980s and '90s, then taught journalism, media studies and Web production, retiring to write and play more music.
This entry was posted in 1950s, adaptations, Capra, critics, movies. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.