Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)



Directed by: Frank Capra
Written by: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein
Starring: Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane and Raymond Massey

It’s Halloween in Brooklyn, and as the opening titles of this spooky comedy suggests: anything can happen, as it usually does. Even from this introductory text, we get a taste of the irony that’s ahead. And from here on out, Arsenic and Old Lace deals us a morbidly funny and brilliantly performed stage adaptation that captures the right tone of enthusiasm and energy found in a live performance.

Mortimer Brewster (Grant) is a drama critic, who gets married to young and radiant Elaine (Harper) even though he is the author of several articles on why marriage is  an old-fashioned superstition. And so, a mayhem of ironies kick off as Mortimer soon discovers that his sweet old aunts – Abby and Martha – are a pair of homicidal maniacs, his estranged younger brother returns with a vengeance, and his screw-loose cousin is about the most sane person in the household.

Say wha?

Laden with the slapstick sensibilities of earlier silent films, Arsenic and Old Lace  thrives in its physical comedy. With dead bodies hidden in the window seat, unwelcome guests coming and going as they please, and Teddy Roosevelt charging up stairs, Arsenic and Old Lace succeeds in filling an entire house with slapstick gags and gestures that give a humorous twist to murder and insanity.

While Arsenic and Old Lace fails to be more playful with its cinematic techniques, Cary Grant’s exuberant and youthfully energetic performance makes up for the lack of movement and excitement coming from the camera’s direction. Funny, entertaining and worth a watch, Arsenic and Old Lace is a sure favorite.


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