Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) Poster

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Completely Hilarious Dark Comedy
Snow Leopard14 June 2001
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.
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And who said comedy is not an art form?
mattymatt4ever4 January 2002
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)
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Frank Capra having fun
caspian197823 July 2004
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.
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My favorite classic movie!
BadWebDiver7 September 2002
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 manner.

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!"
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highly recommended
gsygsy2 April 2007
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.
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"I'm the Son of a Sea Cook!"
bkoganbing21 November 2005
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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The Brooklyn Brewsters
jotix10015 May 2005
"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!
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Brilliant Black Comedy!
Gafke16 April 2005
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!
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Brilliant comedy like they could only make it in the old days
Coventry19 November 2003
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 !
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Cary Grant's expressions are priceless in this hilarious classic
Psycho8612 June 2002
I can watch this movie over and over and never get tired of it. It definitely goes up as one of the funniest movies I've ever seen. The look on Cary Grant's face every time he finds out something new is worth a viewing alone. A classic in every way, shape, and form. 10/10
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Hilarious Screwball Comedy by Frank Capra
claudio_carvalho23 June 2012
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")
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This caught me by surprise
nygfan6 May 2008
I didn't really know what to expect going into this. I have seen a lot of Cary Grant's movies, but none of them prepared me for this dark comedy. Grant is hilarious as the frantic Mortimer Brewster, who finds a body in his aunt's home and tries to get to the bottom of how it got there. There are so many scenes in this film that had me laughing my head off. Much of the credit goes to the actors who all play their parts well, but Frank Capra did a fantastic job with this. A fast pace and great timing and reaction shots made this film that much better. Overall, i would recommend this to nearly everyone. If you don't laugh during this film, I would say that you should check if you still have a pulse.
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One of the Greateset moments in cinema !!
brambledown16 September 2005
A roller coaster of a movie!

Besides heaping all of the normal accolades on this film, I would like to point out what I feel is one of the greatest moments in cinema history. A daring move that only Cary Grant could pull off - I have no idea if it was in the script but it feels like a Grant improv.

The climactic scene at the end of the movie where Cary is tied up, about to be murdered when the police come and the climactic fight scene breaks out. This is a life and death fight - the climax of the movie ! Chaos ensues...chairs flying, bodies flying and what does our friend Mr Grant do? After freeing himself from his bonds he goes and sits on the staircase - still in harm's way of the brawl and with a classic Grant gesture of "don't bother me" he says the immortal line..."everybody off" . At that point he pulls out his cigarette case and lights up. He completely pulled himself out the movie ! Sitting there puffing away on a cigarette without care for the bedlam or threat to his life that whirled around his character in cyclonic fashion....."everybody off"...what a line !
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My Favorite line!
rkmccown21 January 2007
I have watched this movie many times over the years. It is different from movies produced and shown today in that something doesn't explode in every other scene and it actually has dialog. That's right, you really need to listen to what the characters are saying to really enjoy the movie fully. For example, one of my all-time favorite lines is subtly spoken by Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) when he tells his fiancée, Elaine (Priscilla Lane), in the following brief exchange: " I can't marry you, Elaine." "But why, Mortimer?" "Because insanity runs in my family ... (a quick look over his shoulder) ... In fact, it practically gallops!" Get this movie and watch it - be prepared to laugh!
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brewsterschmidt29 March 2002
This film is truly one of the best comedies ever done. It has a great script, is beautifully directed and the performances of the actors are excellent. Above all, it is a treat to watch Cary Grant as Mortimer, every movement and gesture, every rolling of his eyes is superb.

Also praise to Peter Lorre as Dr Einstein. As always Lorre manages to give a stunning performance in a supporting role. When he seems to be found out by the police in one scene his performance goes way beyond that of acting in a comedy and-I' m serious here- tells you something about the human condition.

To sum it up: A great, great movie which is of great use as an anti-depressant.
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What A Nut House
Lechuguilla28 June 2005
A presumably sane young drama critic (Cary Grant) visits the home of his two elderly aunts. Upon arrival, he finds that his two dear, sweet, lovable aunts have embarked on what they see as their mission of mercy ... killing lonely old men, by giving them arsenic-laced wine. Our sane young drama critic soon learns that insanity runs in the family.

Five years ago, the American Film Institute selected America's 100 funniest movies. "Arsenic And Old Lace" (1944) came in at Number 30. And that's not surprising. A lot of people enjoy this dark, screwball comedy, with its slapstick, its fast pace, its sharp dialogue, and its engaging characters. A lot of viewers like it simply because of Cary Grant.

The film's underlying premise is really great. And I must confess that Aunt Abby (Josephine Hull) and Aunt Martha (Jean Adair) are cute and entertaining. (Interestingly, the film portrays them as usually together and almost always in agreement with each other. It's like they function as a single entity). And the other denizen of the house, Uncle Teddy (John Alexander) is also a hoot.

But I'm not a big fan of Cary Grant. His performance here is exaggerated. His hyper and jerky behavior is distracting and grating. The plot gets ever sillier as it moves along, and downright tedious toward the end. Lastly, I have never cared much for films that are so top heavy with dialogue.

The best part of the film is the cinematography. Most of the scenes take place in a big living room, at times with lights out. The B&W lighting is very stark with high contrast, which renders a suitably sinister atmosphere.

"Arsenic ..." is not my cup of tea. But, for viewers who like talky stage plays with an accent on macabre humor, this film is a fine choice. Could I interest you in a glass of elderberry wine, perhaps?
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onepotato28 June 2004
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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Man Found Bludgeoned by Screwball Comedy
Anscules15 May 2004
AP NEWS, Dallas, TX - A man was found murdered Saturday night in his home. According to police, his wife returned home at about 11.15 pm from a night out and found her spouse dead in his home theater. He had been beaten severely, suffering extreme trauma to the head.

Police and paramedics arrived and the victim was pronounced dead on the scene. Homicide detectives concluded that all evidence pointed to Frank Capra's film ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, which the man had watched on his dvd player while his wife was out. The film apparently reached out from the television and killed the victim with an astonishing array of blunt trauma instruments: loud, annoying characters, poor comic timing, tepid pacing, stagebound theatrics, clumsy physical comedy, initially [mildly] amusing bits run into the ground repeatedly, and, most lethal of all, forced farce.

"If only the film had been 30 minutes shorter, the victim might have lived," claimed the county coroner. "He just couldn't take it for 118 minutes. Frankly, I don't know anyone who could."

The district attorney will not charge anyone with the murder, being that all parties involved in making the film are deceased. The family of the victim is considering civil action versus Warner Home Video.

"It just goes to show, anyone can be a killer, regardless of reputation," said the chief investigator. "Here we have a classic, a very highly ranked movie. Who could have known it could have been so lethal. We see it all the time in this business."

Services are set to be held Tuesday at Burkshire Memorial Park. There will be no viewing as the casket will be closed.
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Arse pain and time waste.
alainsane-127 July 2008
I'm a fan of comedy: everything from Fibber McGee & Molly to Family Guy. Arsenic and Old Lace is not funny though. It is also not warm, not engaging, not interesting, and not even pleasant. In fact, most of its characters are completely unsympathetic (meaning I could not relate to them or care for them in the least).

After a somewhat intriguing start, poor Mr. Grant runs around like a chicken with his head chopped off. The cast of characters is dominated by nut-jobs for whom my feelings ranged from pity to disgust. The brother who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt is beyond annoying after his first "CHARGE!" up the staircase.

The action and characterization are contrived. And there is more than the usual, period-misogyny. I've been watching lots of movies from the 40's lately. Some (like The Talk of the Town) strained credulity but were still enjoyable. Others (like The Man Who Came To Dinner) featured mean-spirited characters but somehow managed to keep them charming and zany. Arsenic and Old Lace fails on both counts. It's not only a bad comedy but a bad film of any genre.
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Hardly a classic
michaelrhee9 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Attn: Spoilers (not that it really matters) I had little idea what Arsenic and Old Lace was about when I began watching it tonight. All I needed to know was that Cary Grant was in it and Frank Capra directed. What else do you really need? Well it turns out, quite a bit.

Let's start with the beginning. A baseball stadium. Crowds cheering. Vendors yelling almost directly into the camera. Excitement on the field. Great way to start a movie -- my attention is piqued. Looking back, though, it begs the question: Why? The opening sequence, while whetting the appetite of the viewer, serves little other purpose than to place the story in Brooklyn and then leave you wondering what a baseball game had to do with the rest of the film at all. Seems a bit cliché and gimmicky in hindsight.

Then we're introduced to Mortimer and his wife to be. We find out he's a well-known theater critic and author of books trashing the institution of marriage. How ironic it is, then, that he's getting married... Now even though there are countless romantic comedies based on this concept -- of the playboy bachelor meeting his match and falling in love, throwing away his old lifestyle to finally settle down -- I never tire of it. It's a classic story line. Why this particular element is in this film, though, is another question. Mortimer could have just as easily been an uptight and conservative insurance man who was getting married to the girl next door and the character would have worked just as well. At no point in the film is Mortimer's change in attitude toward marriage ever utilized, and his background as a theater critic is played up for nothing more than a few cheap laughs.

These initial scenes, then, raise the question as to whether Frank Capra was intentionally trying to mislead the viewer as a kind of in-joke -- teasing us with the idea of something exciting happening in a baseball game, or with the possibility of screwball antics to come -- or whether it was just poorly thought out, arbitrary storytelling. For a film as unhinged as Arsenic and Old Lace, I would presume the latter.

The rest of the movie suffers from inconsistencies in tone, swinging from romantic to creepy to foreboding and then downright ridiculous. It is, in total, clumsily put together. I will grant that it has its funny moments (notably the scene when the taxi driver waiting outside the house helps Cary Grant call another cab) but these are rare in what is an otherwise extremely frustrating film to watch.

One of the biggest problems with this film is that most of the action is driven by the very thin plot device of Mortimer trying to get all the signatures necessary to commit Teddy into an insane asylum. This is what motivates Mortimer to run all over town, ignore his new bride, and desperately try to hide the fact that his two sweet aunts are cold-blooded killers. It also blinds him from seeing that his supposed brother, Jonathan, is completely insane. All of Mortimer's actions appear to be centered around saving Teddy, first and foremost. We must assume, then, that Mortimer cares deeply for Teddy. The problem is, we can only assume, as we never really see any sort of unique relationship between the two. Capra clearly thought there was enough time in the film for a couple sincere scenes between Mortimer and his new wife. But it would have been much more effective to develop Mortimer's relationship with Teddy, because then we might know why saving Teddy was so important. I realize this is supposed to be a zany comedy, but in great comedies, you usually care about the characters. I realized about halfway through this film I didn't care about what happened to anyone because they didn't seem to genuinely care about each other.

This makes the last third of the film excruciating to watch, as it drags out the tension between the characters as they try to hide or divert others from finding out the truth of what's lying in the cellar. Again, I understand this is supposed to be a madcap kind of comedy. But it has no heart -- the characters are one-dimensional, lack any sliver of self-awareness, and barrel their way to the finish line by sheer inertia and stupidity. My question is: what's so funny about that?
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fantastically silly
hausofpie19 October 2003
Lighten up, put yourself in 1944 and enjoy! This hilarious movie is meant to be taken lightly. Enjoy the mugging and outlandish acting that you aren't used to seeing from Cary Grant. Enjoy some of the best performances ever from some of the 1940s best character actors. And above all relish the dark humor that could only be pulled off in a more innocent time!
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One of the worst films I've ever watched
vincentlynch-moonoi17 March 2011
I should preface my review by saying that while in high school back in the 1960s, I was on the stage crew, and one year the senior class play was "Arsenic And Old Lace". I did my job with the lighting panel and the curtain, but I thought it was the dumbest play I had ever seen (not that I'd seen many at that point). So for the last 40+ years I've avoided watching the film version.

But, what's not to like? After all, Cary Grant is my favorite actor. Priscilla Lane is usually quite good, and Raymond Massey is often impressive. Who doesn't like Edward Everett Horton. Jack Carson is enjoyable enough. And then there's Peter Lorre and James Gleason.

Well the first thing not to like is Cary Grant in this film. Cary can be manic in films, and for short bursts, it's always hilarious. However, being manic throughout a 118 minute film isn't's know like The Three Stooges. For my money, this is worst Cary Grant film I've seen, and I've seen almost every one. And then there's the Teddy Roosevelt angle. Did anyone ever here of subtlety, rather than screaming? Stupid.

I will admit enjoying Peter Lorre here, as well as James Gleason. And, I thought there was ONE funny line -- mentioning Boris Karloff, who had been the villain in the stage production and who had been the first choice for the film, but was not available and was replaced by Raymond Massey. Okay, THAT was funny.

But as for the rest of this film...well, I gave it a "1" rating, but only because you can't give a "0".
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allthebestof38 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I love the title.

Hate the movie.

Cary Grant's performance is embarrassing to watch. I know it's supposed to be funny. But his facial expressions are just stupid and he is very loud and his lines are horrible.

John Alexander as Roosevelt is also loudly unfunny.

The two aunts blab to everyone they meet there are bodies in their cellar. I don't know how they managed to kill 12 people without telling the whole town.

I do like one part where Peter Lorre is in the dark and says, "Where am I?" and waves his match and says, "oh here I am."

That's it.
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Torture -- And Not the Fun Kind
Danusha_Goska16 April 2008
That anyone, anywhere, critic, civilian, movie fan, someone who had never seen a movie before, finds this movie at all appealing is one of the great mysteries of life.

From the first scene, "Arsenic and Old Lace" is torture, and not the fun kind. It is loud, and sophomoric, and obvious, repugnant and cruel, and without one convincing, human character or moment.

I LOVE Golden-Age Hollywood classics, especially from the 1940s. Love Cary Grant. Love Frank Capra. Love James Gleason. Jack Carson isn't bad. Love Capra's love of taxicab drivers. Priscilla Lane, in the right movie -- opposite John Garfield, say -- can be lovely.

Loved the title cards -- black and white drawings of Halloween -- and the studio sets of just over the bridge Brooklyn. Loved the old Dutch house, with the high, exposed beam ceiling, the plates all along the walls, the Dutch tiles in the fireplace.

Hated, hated, hated, the movie.

No style, no humor, not a scrap of intelligence. Priscilla Lane and Cary Grant are horribly matched. The actresses playing the little old lady aunts lack charisma -- a crime given that there were so many interesting older actresses in those days.

Raymond Massey's make-up was simply grotesque. Peter Lorre wandered in from a dozen better movies. The sheer stupidity of scene after scene is an insult to the audience.

I just felt like I was being pummeled by a hammer for two hours.

If this had been the first movie I had ever seen, I might never have watched another.

It takes a special kind of script and director to wring humor from a ghastly, graphic, torture scene, and this movie has the ghastly, graphic torture scene, that is meant to be funny, and that is just as appealing as a big, dead, squashed bug sitting there staring up at you from your dinner plate.

Gad, this sucked.

Denounce it! It does not deserve its reputation! I just watched it. I need a shower.
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Lunacy runs in the family,,,,,,,,,,
mianaliilyas78611 December 2010
Well it's quite true that they don't make the movies the way they use to.30 and 40's was defining era for comedies and movies made in those years don't have any par nowadays. Frank Capra was master when it come to make comedies. Arsenic and Old Lace is one of the most entertaining movie in his credit. The movie is about drama critic who goes against his convictions about matrimony and marries the girl he loves and on the way to his honeymoon he finds out that his two adorable aunts are insane murders who likes to kill old pathetic loner and bury them in their cellar.

Though the start is bit a slow but after some while the movie takes a roller coaster ride. Often movies revolves around one or two characters but in this movie every character is unique and has its own domain; whether it's mentally delusional Teddy Roosevelt (John Alexander), who in my opinion was the brightest and most funniest impersonation ever done on cinema or whether its Jonathan Brewster (Raymond Massey), maniacal murderer who with the help of his friend Dr. Einstein (played superbly by Peter Lorre) gets a new face resembling Boris Karloff, every one was hilarious in the movie. In my opinion one who loves pure comedy won't regret seeing this masterpiece.
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