Mortimer Bruster is a newspaperman and author known for his diatribes against marriage. We watch him being married at city hall in the opening scene. Now all that is required is a quick trip home to tell Mortimer's two maiden aunts. While trying to break the news, he finds out his aunts' hobby; killing lonely old men and burying them in the cellar. It gets worse.
Cary Grant ... Mortimer Brewster
Josephine Hull ... Aunt Abby Brewster
Jean Adair ... Aunt Martha Brewster
Raymond Massey ... Jonathan Brewster
Peter Lorre ... Dr. Herman Einstein
Priscilla Lane ... Elaine Harper
John Alexander ... Theodore Brewster
Jack Carson ... Officer Patrick O'Hara
John Ridgely ... Officer Saunders
Edward McNamara ... Police Sgt. Brophy
James Gleason ... Lt. Rooney
Grant Mitchell ... Reverend Harper
Edward Everett Horton ... Mr. Witherspoon
Vaughan Glaser ... Judge Cullman
Chester Clute ... Dr. Gilchrist
For those who enjoy dark comedy, it's hard to see how anything could be funnier than "Arsenic and Old Lace". With Cary Grant's talent for madcap comedy, with hilariously sinister performances by Raymond Massey and Peter Lorre, with two adorable old ladies who have a very dark secret, plus half-a-dozen other eccentric characters, all involved in a complicated and unpredictable plot, this is a comic masterpiece. Director Frank Capra keeps everything moving and adds his own touch, keeping some dark material entirely light-hearted.
This is the kind of movie for which mere analysis cannot do justice to how well everything fits together. The characters, cast, and writing are all perfect, and the crazy story gives every character some great moments. There is plenty of witty dialogue, lots of funny slapstick and physical humor, and quite a few wild plot developments. None of it is meant to be plausible, but it is all hugely entertaining, and done with such skill that it is easy to suspend disbelief. If you happen not to have seen this before, stick with it for the first few minutes, until you arrive at the home of Cary Grant's two aunts, and then things will take off quickly.
If you enjoy morbid humor, "Arsenic and Old Lace" is an absolute must-see.
"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!
Arsenic and Old Lace is the most important contender for the funniest movie ever made !! Every single aspect and element in this movie is just perfect. And I'm NOT exaggerating... If I have to rate all the different elements of cinema separately, I would rate them all 10 out of 10. Acting, directing, plot, location, dialogues, sense of humor...all brilliant and in the right proportions. Frank Capra was responsible for several milestones and masterpieces in the history of cinema but - in my opinion - Arsenic and Old Lace beats them all. Yes, I DO think it's even better than 'It's a Wonderful Life' and 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' !!! Arsenic and Old Lace is just everything you could possibly wish for in a motion picture. A must see that comes with the highest possible recommendation.
Explaining the plot a bit would almost be impossible to do. The story goes about so many things. Don't be alarmed, it's not at all hard to follow or something. As a viewer, you're just being overwhelmed by a series of hilarious plot twists and intelligent side-characters and their backgrounds. So much that it is almost impossible to mention it all. And besides, it's better that you start watching it without knowing too much about the story anyway. Just sit back and enjoy being pleasantly surprised. I can't imagine that there are people out there who didn't fully enjoy this movie !! It comes really close to perfection, and the intelligence and originality of it will never again find an equal. Nowadays comedies are all low-brainers ( or even no-brainers ) that handle about dumb teenagers or dick and fart jokes. Arsenic and Old Lace is a comedy that is mainly story-driven and brought to an even higher level thanks the flawless acting performances.
Yes...let's talk about the cast a bit !! Cary Grant plays the role of his life in my opinion. Sure, he played many other brilliant roles but his character Mortimer Brewster is just the most memorable of them all. Grant's comedy talent was never stressed better than in this film. His facial expressions are hilarious and his the amazingly funny lines sound brilliant coming out of his mouth. The girl who played his wife Elaine ( forgot her name ) is very beautiful and a great match for him. And I was very enthusiast to see Peter Lorre in this film. He's in my top 5 list of greatest actors who ever lived and anyone who saw this movie will agree with me on that. He's just perfect as Dr. Einstein. I can keep on rambling about the cast but I think you get the whole picture... FLAWLESS !!!
Black comedy is one of the hardest subgenres of cinema to make a good movie out. Not many directors and scriptwriters have enough talent to take a subject like murder, death or insanity and make a masterpiece out of it. Stanley Kubrick did it with 'Dr. Strangelove' and Frank Capra did it with this one ... I think these men are the exception. Only these guys can make you laugh hysterically with subjects like this. Finally one more note : This is also a perfect movie to watch if you're a fan of classic horror movies and thrillers. First of all because of the tribute role by Peter Lorre of course but also because of the constant morbid atmosphere hanging around the movie...And, naturally, because of the character of Jonathan Brewster which clearly is a direct tribute to Boris Karloff...They even say so most of the times.
What the hell are you waiting for ?? Go watch it right now !
* The film was made in 1941 but went unreleased for three years after it was completed, waiting for the Broadway play to finish its run. On stage, Boris Karloff played Raymond Massey's character, Jonathan Brewster, who "looks like Karloff". Karloff was actually doing the stage play in New York during production of this film, so he was unable to do both.
* In "The Muppet Show: (#2.12)" (1977), a sketch called "Veterinarians' Hospital" makes a joke about Arsenic and Old Lace (1944): Nurse Janice: What do you think, Dr. Bob? Rolf: Simple, it's arsenic poisoning. Janice: Arsenic? Rolf: Sure, just look at this old lace! Nurse Piggy: Arsenic and old lace? Dr. Bob, Dr. Bob, that's an old show. Rolf: Well, that's an old shoe! Janice: Well, that's an old joke!
* Cary Grant donated his entire salary, $100,000, to the U.S. War Relief Fund.
* Ronald Reagan and Jack Benny were offered the role of Mortimer Brewster, but turned it down. Bob Hope was offered the part and was eager to do it but Paramount Pictures refused to loan him out to Warner Brothers for the project.
* The original Broadway play was very successful and ran for a record 1,444 performances in the early 1940s.
* According to various sources, Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein adapted the screenplay "with help" from Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse.
* Cary Grant considered his acting in this film to be horribly over the top and often called it his least favorite of all his movies.
* Director Frank Capra enlisted in the U. S. Army Signal Corps in 1941 during filming. He received an extension of his order to report for active duty until late January 1942 so he could finish editing the picture.
* Some 20 years before filming this movie, actress Jean Adair had helped to nurse a very sick vaudeville performer named Archie Leach back to health; by the time she was asked to reprise her Broadway "Arsenic and Old Lace" role as Aunt Martha for this film, Adair and Leach, now known as Cary Grant, were old friends.
* Arsenic and Old Lace opened at the Fulton Theater on January 10, 1941 and ran for 1444 performances. Jean Adair, John Alexander and Joesphine Hull reprise their roles in the movie.
# SPOILER: Mortimer's repeated phrase at the end of the film declaring the secret of his birth was originally "I'm not a Brewster - I'm a bastard!" However, the censors demanded that it be changed, resulting in the phrase "I'm the son of a sea cook!"
# SPOILER: In the scene near the end of the film where Dr. Einstein (Peter Lorre) is pulling Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) down the stairs to try to get him out of the house before his brother Jonathan (Raymond Massey) can kill him, Grant ad-libs to Lorre, "Stop underplaying, I can't understand you."
# SPOILER: In the play, Mr. Witherspoon, the caretaker of Happydale Sanitarium, is himself poisoned with a glass of wine by the two aunts, but the censors forced the studio to change this because it would have meant that the two aunts would have gotten away with murder. However, Edward Everett Horton, who played Witherspoon in the movie, did pose for a publicity photograph with a glass of wine in his hand.