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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
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.
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.
"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!
This is my all-time favorite classic movie. It has an very
sophisticatedly entertaining plot line, the casting is superb, the pace
is breathtaking, and it deals with a subject (euthanasia) that is still
controversial today. The story is a fine example of "black comedy",
where a socially unacceptable idea is shown in a very entertaining
The story is set up brilliantly right from the get-go; where a 'certifiable' publicly-acclaimed bachelor is secretly getting married. The personality of the cast is excellent. I know that Cary Grant reckoned this was his worst movie, saying it was more of a "Jimmy Stewart-type part"; but his spot-on comic timing and professional style hamming plays the role to perfection. Also co-starring in the movie is a brilliant Peter Lorre as a maniac doctor and Raymond Massey as the psychotic brother. Most critics have attacked this film by saying the script refers to the psycho being a Boris Karloff look-alike, highlighting the fact that Boris played the role is the original stage play. However Massey plays the role to deadpan perfection, and the humor of the scenario still works.
My favorite scene is the self-referential one where Mortimer (a theater critic)is describing "bad plays (and movies)". If you watch the background action, and pay attention to the dialog, the ironic situation is brilliantly realized. This film also has my personal favorite quote, said by Cary Grant as Peter Lorre frantically tries to warn him of impending doom; "Stop underplaying - I can't hear you!"
Mortimer Brewster, a New York critic of both drama and marriage, has
finally married Elaine Harper, the girl next door. But before heading
off to Niagra Falls for the honeymoon, Mortimer stops in to see his
aunts, Abby and Martha Brewster, two sweet little old ladies who donate
toys to charity and care for their nephew Teddy, a bugle blowing nutbag
who thinks he's Theodore Roosevelt. But Abby and Martha aren't as sweet
and innocent as they seem. Mortimer soon discovers, to his horror, that
his dear old aunties have a dozen bodies buried in the basement. It
seems the Brewster sisters have a new hobby - luring lonely old men
into their home and serving them Elderberry Wine spiked with arsenic
poison. To make matters worse, Mortimer's deranged and very dangerous
brother Jonathan shows up. Jonathan, on the run from the law, has a
dead body in the trunk of his car, a drunken plastic surgeon at his
side and a face that looks like Boris Karloff. Mortimer frantically
attempts to deal with dead bodies, insane asylum directors, attempted
murders and a new bride all on a single crazy Halloween night.
This is a must-see Halloween movie, filled with Gallows humor, leaf-strewn graveyards, pumpkins and death. Cary Grant delivers a performance unlike any other he has ever done - manic, panicked, hysterical and almost as insane as his screen family. John Alexander is flawless as Teddy; bugles, pith helmet and all. Jean Adair and Josephine Hull are so sweet and cute and so absolutely morbid you'll forgive them anything. Raymond Massey as Boris Karloff lookalike Jonathan is simultaneously menacing and amusing, and Peter Lorre as his drunken German sidekick Dr. Einstein is a riot, bugging his eyes and flinching through the entire film in a most endearing way.
This is a must see film, no matter your genre preference. There's something for everyone here: quick-witted comedy, true romance, grisly deeds, everything! Fans of Grant and Lorre must not miss this film. 10 stars!
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)
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
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 !
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.
One of the great black comedies. If Boris Karloff had joined his fellow
Broadway cast members - Jean Adair, Josephine Hull and John Alexander -
I think it would have been an even better movie. Raymond Massey,
unquestionably a good actor, did his best, but didn't quite seem to get
the joke, or maybe was overwhelmed by having to incarnate Karloff. But
it's a quibble, really, and we're more than compensated by the the rest
of the cast.
Cary Grant motors the piece along at a terrific pace. He's a joy to watch, with his double-, triple-, even quadruple- and quintuple-takes. Hull and Adair are equally wonderful in their different ways, the former all floaty and tip-toe, the latter hysterically earnest - one of my favourite moments is Adair's superb double-take when she notices, on the dining-room table, a shoe she doesn't recognise.
Peter Lorre, Jack Carson, Edward Everett Horton, James Gleason, and the rest, are all everything they should be, and Priscilla Lane is splendidly dewy-eyed and pouty as the love-interest.
I've seen Arsenic and Old Lace countless times. I've never tired of it, always look forward to it, and highly recommend it.
I remember hating this movie in my teens. Recently I thought I'd give
it a second chance.
The problem with this movie is that although it's a black comedy, for one to work it really can't be quaint. Frank Capra is certainly talented but his worst instincts are insufferable, and none of them are restrained here. He overplays the sweetness, overplays the reactions, overplays the conflict, etc... Exacerbating the problem is that the script (and the original play) is overwritten, without having sufficient plot once the conflict in introduced. There isn't a second of this movie that's subtle. Every sequence is louder and more head-ache inducing than the previous. Each has a painful setup and the facile expected resolution.
I would argue that the suckier screwball comedies include a de rigeur sequence in which the volume and tempo build to a degree that is simply annoying to a modern audience. This screwball comedy is more shrill than all the others. Grant felt that this he was not any good in this and he's not. But no one is; blame the script!
It's really surprising that it came out during the war, and that it pre-dates almost all the big serial murder cases on the 20th century. This is more interesting as an odd, prescient take on the dysfunctional dark side of the American family.
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