Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Raymond Massey, Jack Carson,
A Brooklyn writer of books on the futility of marriage risks his reputation when he decides to tie the knot. Things get even more complicated when he learns on his wedding day that his beloved maiden aunts are habitual murderers.
  • 7.9 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, Joseph Kesselring, Writer:
  • Frank Capra, Director:
  • Producer:

Trailer:

7 / 10

"I'm the Son of a Sea Cook!"

In Frank Capra's autobiography he explains that the reason he wanted to do Arsenic and Old Lace was that he was planning to go into the service, in preparation for the war he was sure coming. He wanted a surefire moneymaking hit that could be done on the cheap.

Arsenic and Old Lace was running on Broadway at the time and authors Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse had sold the film rights to Warner Brothers. Capra negotiated a deal with Jack Warner for a percentage and told him how he would do the film on the cheap, but not cut production values. Years of experience at Columbia had taught him how. The property was perfect since 90% of it is on one set, the Brewster living room.

So the shooting was for four weeks and a big percentage of the budget was spent on getting a name star for guaranteed box office, that of course being Cary Grant. Of course this being 1941 the shooting was interrupted briefly by the actual attack on Pearl Harbor. But the film wrapped up quickly and was not released to the public until 1944 after the show on Broadway closed. It was however shown to troops overseas as were several other Hollywood films before they reached the domestic market.

Of course with a Capra selected cast the film was a great triumph. Only Jean Adair and Josephine Hull as the Brewster sisters and John Alexander as "Theodore Roosevelt" Brewster repeated their Broadway roles. Capra had insisted on that.

I don't think Cary Grant was ever more frantic in his film career than in Arsenic and Old Lace. He's one bundle of perpetual motion as Mortimer Brewster theater critic and member of a family where insanity doesn't just run, it gallops. He's got two daffy old spinster aunts who poison lonely old men to cure their loneliness, a brother who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt, and another brother who is a homicidal maniac. Quite a family tree. Grant's performance is so good, you can see the fevered workings of his mind in his facial expressions as he frantically tries to get his whole family committed before the aunt's deeds are discovered.

Of the supporting cast I think that Raymond Massey as the homicidal brother, Peter Lorre as his sidekick, and Jack Carson as the dense police officer truly stand out. They and the others play parts that seem tailor made for them.

Over fifty years later, Arsenic and Old Lace will still fracture the funny bone in you.

And I wouldn't bet we've still not seen the last Roosevelt in the White House.

9 / 10

And who said comedy is not an art form?

With many silly comedies of recent years, comedy has become the most underrated art form. People take comedy for granted. As if there's nothing to it. True, there are some people will just laugh at anything. In some cases, it doesn't take much to raise a chuckle out of a certain someone. But this is the kind of film that will make you fall on the floor laughing. Why? Because it makes use of every comic device you can think of. The timing, the delivery, the choreography. Absolutely perfect!

That's right, no cheap shots here. There are some absolutely brilliant scenes in this film that made me laugh out loud, while at the same time scream out "Capra's a genius!" If you wanna see what comedy is truly all about, watch the scene where Cary Grant (noted drama critic) is describing the story of a bad play he had just seen to Peter Lorre. As he's doing so, everything that happened in the story is going on right behind his back. Doesn't sound like much on paper, but you have to see it to believe it. There are also many great lines, including "Pull up a tombstone."

The acting is topnotch. I can't believe Grant felt this was the worst movie he's ever done (check the Trivia section). I actually liked the fact that this was a different role for him, as opposed to the suave, quiet, laid-back romantic he-man he usually plays. In this movie, we really get to see his knack for slapstick--and he's great at it! Every facial expression, every bulge of the eyes--he did it with such perfect timing. There's also a great scene where they all start fighting, and Grant sits on the stairs and smokes a cigarette while all this bedlam ensues. His deadpan expression during that scene is classic. I also have to give it up for everyone else in the cast--though Grant deserves the most acclaim.

There are lulls here and there, and the film runs a little long (though that wouldn't surprise me being that it was adapted from a stage play), but there are so many beautifully crafted, hilarious moments that I can't rate this movie as anything less than a must-see! I would go on and on about which scenes I found memorable, but I don't wanna spoil it for anyone. Just see it for yourself! Trust me, you'll die laughing!

My score: 9 (out of 10)

7 / 10

Frank Capra having fun

Cary Grant should have had his second Academy Award before he filmed Arsenic and Old Lace. After, he should have taken home his third for best Actor in one of his best comedic performances in his amazing career. Arsenic and Old Lace takes place pretty much in one location. A stage comedy, the movie does justice to its original theatrical version. Cary Grant makes you laugh, even an audience 50 and 60 years after its original release. The story of innocent guilt and laughable situations, other movies like What's Up Doc, Marvin's Room, and even Lake Placid (with its moments of ignorance and bliss) have all stolen moments of Arsenic and Old Lace. No one but Cary Grant could have starred in this movie. A delightful performance and an over the top comedic talent was showcased in this comedy classic.

10 / 10

The Brooklyn Brewsters

"Arsenic and Old Lace", one of the best stage comedies that were seen on Broadway, gets the royal treatment via Frank Capra, a man that was born to direct the movie version, if ever there was a man to do so. The play written by Joseph Kisserling was given an excellent screen play treatment by the Julius and Philip Epstein team, two great movie adapters of all time.

This is a combination of a madcap and a screwball comedy. The first best thing in the film are the star turn performances by two of the original actresses that created the roles of Aunt Abby and Aunt Martha, Josephine Hull and Jean Adair, respectively. Just to see the Brewster sisters in action is worth the price of admission. These two women had the roles of a career by bringing life into the two kinds souls living in Brooklyn and doing good, as well as "helping lonely old men" to find happiness.

The second best reason for watching the film is Cary Grant. This is without a doubt one of the actor's best achievements in his long career in the movies! Mr. Grant plays Mortimer Brewster, a man that hates the idea of getting married and losing his freedom. That is, until the beautiful Elaine comes along. Mr. Grant is a joy to watch in the film, no matter what he is doing, at any given moment. His expressions, as well as his timing is impeccable, something one expects of all of Mr. Capra's movies.

The Brewster household is the center of the action, but for a stage play, it never seems confining, or theatrical, even though it's basically shot in one single set. This appears to be the Brooklyn area near the Heights where one can see the majestic bridge in the distant. Maybe around Old Fulton Street, or that area, where the River Cafe is located now.

Mr. Capra was able to assemble such a wonderful group of the best actors working in movies. Lovely Priscilla Lane is the woman that conquered Mortimer's heart. Raymond Massey is Jonathan, the Dracula-like sinister figure that is Mortimer's brother. Also, John Alexander, is seen as "Uncle Teddy", the man with a Teddy Roosevelt's complex. Peter Lorre makes a good contribution as Dr. Einstein.

Jack Carson and John Ridgley are seen as the police working the area where the Brewster live. The supporting players are amazing: Edward Everett Horton, Garry Owen, Grant Mitchell, James Gleason, and although seen briefly, the great Charles Lane, who is one of the photographers pursuing Mortimer and Elaine when they are getting the marriage license. Mr. Lane appeared in hundred of films and is still alive, 100 years young! In a way, it's ironic Mr. Lane survived almost all the people in the film!

An excellent film by that American master, Frank Capra!

8 / 10

Hilarious Screwball Comedy by Frank Capra

On Halloween day, the writer and drama critic Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) secretly marries his next door neighbor Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane) and they decide to travel to Niagara Falls in honeymoon. Mortimer has written many books criticizing the institution of marriage and his weeding would be a scoop for the reporters and paparazzos.

Mortimer and Elaine take a taxi to Brooklyn to bring their luggage and Mortimer visits his adorable elderly aunts Abby (Josephine Hull) and Martha Brewster (Jean Adair), who raised him and are considered Good Samaritans in the neighborhood, renting rooms and giving meals to the poor. His aunts live with his insane brother Teddy (John Alexander), who believes that is Theodore Roosevelt and is digging locks for the Panama Canal in the basement of the house. When Mortimer is ready to go, he finds a dead body hidden in the window seat and his aunts explains that they have murdered the poor men for charity to stop their suffering serving wine spiked with arsenic and other poisons. Then Teddy buries the corpses in the locks believing that they had yellow fever.

Mortimer decides to send Teddy to the Happy Dale Sanatorium but things get worse when his other insane and cruel brother Jonathan Brewster (Raymond Massey), who had disappeared twenty years ago and has the face of Boris Karloff, unexpectedly appears in the house with his alcoholic partner, the plastic surgeon Dr. Einstein (Peter Lorre), expecting to find a place to dispose the corpse of his victim. The place transforms in a nuthouse.

"Arsenic and Old Lace" is a hilarious screwball comedy by Frank Capra based on a theater play. The plot and the characters are very funny with Josephine Hull and Jean Adair performing two innocent serial-killers believing that the death of their victims is charity. Cary Grant exaggerates in his reaction and he seems to be crazier than his insane relatives, but the result is wonderful. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "Este Mundo é um Hospício" ("This World is a Sanatorium")