Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) - Rotten Tomatoes

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Arsenic and Old Lace Trailers & Photos

Movie Info

Arsenic and Old Lace is director Frank Capra's spin on the classic Joseph Kesselring stage comedy, which concerns the sweet old Brewster sisters (Josephine Hull, Jean Adair), beloved in their genteel Brooklyn neighborhood for their many charitable acts. One charity which the ladies don't advertise is their ongoing effort to permit lonely bachelors to die with smiles on their faces--by serving said bachelors elderberry wine spiked with arsenic. When the sisters' drama-critic nephew Mortimer (Cary Grant) stumbles onto their secret, he is understandably put out--especially since he has just married the lovely Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane). Given the homicidal tendencies of his aunts, the sinister activities of his escaped-convict older brother Jonathan (Raymond Massey) and the disruptive behavior of younger brother Teddy (John Alexander)--who is convinced that he's really Theodore Roosevelt, and runs around the house yelling "CHAAAAARGGGE"--Mortimer isn't keen on starting a family with his new bride. "Insanity runs in my family," he explains. "It practically gallops." Further complications ensue when the murderous Jonathan Brewster arrives home, with his snivelling accomplice Dr. Einstein (Peter Lorre) in tow. When Jonathan learns that his darling aunts have killed twelve men, he is incensed--they're challenging his own record of murders. Though the movie rights for Arsenic and Old Lace were set up so that the film could not be released until 1944, director Capra shot the film quickly and inexpensively in 1941, so that his family could subsist on his $100,000 salary while he was serving in World War II.more
Rating: Unrated
Genre: Mystery & Suspense, Classics, Comedy
Directed By:
Written By: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, Joseph Kesselring
In Theaters:
On DVD: Aug 29, 2000
Warner Bros. Pictures


Cary Grant
as Mortimer Brewster
Raymond Massey
as Jonathan Brewster
Josephine Hull
as Abby Brewster
John Alexander
as `Teddy Roosevelt' Br...
Priscilla Lane
as Elaine Harper
Jean Adair
as Martha Brewster
Edward Everett Horto...
as Mr. Witherspoon
Peter Lorre
as Dr. Einstein
James Gleason
as Lt. Rooney
Grant Mitchell
as Rev. Harper
Garry Owen
as Taxi Driver
John Ridgely
as Saunders
Vaughan Glaser
as Judge Cullman
Chester Clute
as Dr. Gilchrist
Charles Lane
as Reporter
Leo White
as Man in Phone Booth
Spencer Charters
as Marriage License Cle...
Hank Mann
as Photographer
Lee Phelps
as Umpire
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Arsenic and Old Lace

Critic Reviews for Arsenic and Old Lace

All Critics (25) | Top Critics (4)

Despite the fact that picture runs 118 minutes, Frank Capra has expanded on the original play [by Joseph Kesselring] to a sufficient extent to maintain a steady, consistent pace.

Full Review… | August 13, 2007
Top Critic

The timing is abysmal throughout, turning fast pace into numbing frenzy.

Full Review… | August 13, 2007
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Good macabre fun.

Full Review… | August 8, 2006
New York Times
Top Critic

Dusty but gentle entertainment.

Full Review… | June 24, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Today the stellar cast comes across as overacting, mugging into predictable pratfalls, blustering obtuseness and telegraphed laff lines.

Full Review… | February 22, 2016
ReelTalk Movie Reviews

Cary Grant et al are on sparkling form in this classic darkly twisted comedy.

Full Review… | October 22, 2013
Empire Magazine

Audience Reviews for Arsenic and Old Lace

While the first half hour is exceptionally hilarious (with Cary Grant displaying a perfect comic timing there), this madcap dark comedy soon resorts to irritating, over-the-top mass hysteria, with everyone yelling around without rest, killing what made it so funny in the beginning.

Carlos Magalh„es

Super Reviewer

Way too theatrical for my taste. I couldn't stand watching it anymore, so I turned it off after watching the first hour.

Saskia D.

Super Reviewer

A newlywed discovers that his aged aunts have been poisoning lonely bachelors as his brother returns with a body to hide.
This is a shallow but enjoyable farce. Cary Grant runs about and contorts his face in all the shapes required by the genre, and Josephine Hull and Jean Adair are delightful in their naivete. This isn't substantive comedy, but it's well-plotted and energetic.
Overall, I enjoyed Arsenic and Old Lace for its madcap fun as it's a decent way to while away a couple hours.

Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

Arsenic and Old Lace Quotes

"Teddy Roosevelt" Brewster: [Mr. Witherspoon has just met Teddy and Teddy pulls Mortimer aside] Is he trying to move into the White House before I've moved out?
Mortimer Brewster: Who?
"Teddy Roosevelt" Brewster: [points to Mr. Witherspoon] Taft!
– Submitted by Francis L (4 years ago)
Dr. Einstein: You shouldn't have killed him. Just because he know something about us, what happens?
Jonathan Brewster: We come to him for help, and he tries to shake us down. Besides, he said I looked like Boris Karloff!
– Submitted by Francis L (4 years ago)
Mortimer Brewster: [singing] There is a Happydale, far, far away...
– Submitted by Francis L (4 years ago)
Martha Brewster: For a gallon of elderberry wine, I take one teaspoon full of arsenic, then add half a teaspoon full of strychnine, and then just a pinch of cyanide.
Mortimer Brewster: Hmm. Should have quite a kick.
– Submitted by Francis L (4 years ago)

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