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Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

 -  Comedy | Crime  -  23 September 1944 (USA)
8.1
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Ratings: 8.1/10 from 48,087 users  
Reviews: 244 user | 64 critic

A drama critic learns on his wedding day that his beloved maiden aunts are homicidal maniacs, and that insanity runs in his family.

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(screen play), (screen play), 1 more credit »
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Title: Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
...
...
...
O'Hara
...
...
...
Josephine Hull ...
Jean Adair ...
John Alexander ...
...
Edward McNamara ...
Garry Owen ...
Taxi Cab Driver
John Ridgely ...
Saunders
Vaughan Glaser ...
Judge Cullman
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Storyline

Mortimer Brewster 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. Written by John Vogel <jlvogel@comcast.net>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

She Passed Out On Cary ! No Wonder . . . She's just discovered his favorite aunts have poisoned their 13th gentleman friend !

Genres:

Comedy | Crime

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

Language:

|

Release Date:

23 September 1944 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Frank Capra's 'Arsenic and Old Lace'  »

Box Office

Budget:

$1,120,175 (estimated)
 »

Company Credits

Production Co:

 »
Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The film was shot between October 20 and December 16, 1941. During 1943, the film was shown to the Armed Forces overseas. but went unissued domestically until its Manhattan debut at the Strand Theatre on September 1, 1944, followed by the nationwide release on September 23. Warner Bros. had been contractually required to wait for the Broadway play to finish its run, which finally occurred on June 17, 1944. By the time the movie opened, Priscilla Lane and Warner Bros. had ended their association. See more »

Goofs

Near the end of the film, Mr. Witherspoon addresses Mortimer as Mr. Witherspoon and Mortimer corrects him and saves the scene. Cary Grant appears to be genuinely amused by his mistake. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Baseball Fan: I'll knock your block off, you big stiff! You're a bum!
See more »

Connections

Featured in Kisses (1991) See more »

Soundtracks

There Is a Happy Land
Words by Andrew Young
Music by Leonard P. Breedlove
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

 
"I'm the Son of a Sea Cook!"
21 November 2005 | by (Buffalo, New York) – See all my reviews

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.


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