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‘A Secret Proclamation’: Queering the Gothic Parody of Arsenic and Old Lace

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Frank Capra's Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), based on Joseph Kesselring's popular Broadway play, has been largely ignored by critics and Capra-philes. The film is generally perceived of as existing outside of the corpus of Capra's other films, such as It's a Wonderful Life, Mr Deeds Goes to Town, and Mr Smith Goes to Washington. As Thomas Schatz states, the feeling about Arsenic is that it is little more than a serving of canned theater, an entertaining and straightforward recreation of the stage play with virtually none of the style or substance of earlier Capra-directed pictures. Victor Scherle and William Turner Levy note that ‘Capra left the play essentially unchanged and did not embellish it with any special social significance’. In his extensive biography of the director, Joseph McBride goes so far as to state that the filming of Arsenic signals the beginning of a ‘flight from ideas’ which would continue for most of Capra's career.
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Keywords: Capra; Kesselring; adaptations; film; gender; horror; sexual normativity; theatre

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dalhousie University

Publication date: 01 November 2005

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  • The official journal of the International Gothic Association considers the field of Gothic studies from the eighteenth century to the present day. The aim of Gothic Studies is not merely to open a forum for dialogue and cultural criticism, but to provide a specialist journal for scholars working in a field which is today taught or researched in almost all academic establishments. Gothic Studies invites contributions from scholars working within any period of the Gothic; interdisciplinary scholarship is especially welcome, as are readings in the media and beyond the written word.

    Gothic Studies is also available in an unrivalled electronic collection, Manchester Gothic that also includes 40 eBooks on gothic literature and culture written by leading names in the field and covers literature, film, television, theatre and visual arts, dating from the eighteenth century to the present day.

    Manchester Gothic aims to explain why gothic studies is so prevalent in the fields of art, film, literature and culture by providing easy access to digital texts, essays and studies in all things gothic. From the study of gothic and death to monsters, vampires, werewolves and ghosts as well as studies on visionaries such as Terry Gilliam, Alan Moore and Terence Fisher; Manchester Gothic brings them all together in one easy to use resource see Manchester Gothic.
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