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Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)


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Average Rating: N/A
Critic Reviews: 4
Fresh: 3 | Rotten: 1



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Average Rating: 4/5
User Ratings: 44,926

My Rating

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

Aug 29, 2000

Warner Bros. Pictures

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All Critics (24) | Top Critics (4) | Fresh (22) | Rotten (2) | DVD (13)

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.

August 13, 2007 Full Review Source: Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

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

August 13, 2007 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader | Comments (4)
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Good macabre fun.

August 8, 2006 Full Review Source: New York Times
New York Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Dusty but gentle entertainment.

June 24, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

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

October 22, 2013 Full Review Source: Empire Magazine
Empire Magazine

The film was adapted from a successful stage play and it comes across as very theatrical on screen, but once you get past that, there's an enjoyable lunacy to the whole thing.

October 22, 2013 Full Review Source: Film4

Cary Grant serial-killer comedy classic is cozy and tame.

December 14, 2010 Full Review Source: Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media

Riotously funny.

August 13, 2007 Full Review Source: TV Guide's Movie Guide
TV Guide's Movie Guide

Unable to conceal the film's theatrical origins, Capra misfires as a director and misguides Cary Garnt, who's too mannered, but the time, the combo of horror and comedy was new and the old ladies' gruseome hobby was shocking to audiences.

July 17, 2005 Full Review Source: EmanuelLevy.Com

Charge! off to see this classic Capra screwballer.

October 25, 2004

has stood the test of time to remain as funny today as anything Hollywood is producing now.

September 27, 2003 Full Review Source: Three Movie Buffs
Three Movie Buffs

Not one of Capra's best. Grant is too hammy and out of control, and without Boris Karloff as Jonathan Brewster, the joke is lost.

March 6, 2003 | Comment (1)
Journal and Courier (Lafayette, IN)

Nowhere near the play, but fun and fast

August 21, 2002
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC) of the staples of black comedy for stage and screen.

January 1, 2000
Movie Metropolis

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) is a frenzied, hilarious, madcap black comedy from celebrated director Frank Capra

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Tim Dirks' The Greatest Films
Tim Dirks' The Greatest Films

Audience Reviews for Arsenic and Old Lace

Way too theatrical for my taste. I couldn't stand watching it anymore, so I turned it off after watching the first hour.
July 22, 2012

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.
July 5, 2012
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

The newly married nephew of a pair of dear old ladies is shocked to discover that they have been euthenising the lonely old gents of their neighbourhood. I'm a fan of Frank Capra and Cary Grant both, but Arsenic And Old Lace is rather too broadly played and self-consciously "kooky" for my tastes. In my opinion, Grant is at his best when he is being silver tongued and debonair but in this film he leaps around, hopping and howling like a chimpanzee (the film it reminded me of most in approach was probably Monkey Business) and it's just full of people running in and out of the same one room location, shouting, blowing bugles and generally being rather loud and irritating. It's born of the same school of screwball comedy of falling over and double takes rather than fast talking wise-cracks and as such isn't really my cup of tea. I would have to say that the scenes involving the body removals in the dark are so beautifully shot that they could've been lifted straight from The Third Man, but otherwise I found it overlong and mildly annoying rather than funny.
March 7, 2012
xGary Xx

Super Reviewer

Police Sgt. Brophy: They're two of the dearest, sweetest, kindest, old ladies that ever walked the earth. They're out of this world. They're like, they're like pressed rose leaves. 

I'm slightly disappointed with Arsenic and Old Lace. My expectations were way too high. I expected a comedic masterpiece from Frank Capra and Cary Grant. What I got was still rather enjoyable, if not a masterpiece. Arsenic and Old Lace is a sporadically funny, dark, screwball comedy. It isn't Capra's best work, as it isn't Grant's. But together, they do make for a pretty fun, ridiculous and classic comedy.

Mortimer is a play critic and a book writer. He writes books on how stupid getting married is and how bachelor life is the way to go. Then on Halloween he get married. He goes to tell his sweet, dear aunts and finds out they poison old lonely men and bury them in the cellar. The situation is made even worse, when his criminal brother shows up with a body of his own. This plot description may sound more like a horror film then a comedy, but the way it plays out is extremely humorous.

What makes this movie so enjoyable would have to be the two aunts. They seem so sweet, even when they are talking about killing old men. They are so nonchalant about it. What they are doing seems so normal to them. They think they are doing the men favors. The two actresses, Josephine Hull and Jean Adir are wonderful as the aunts. They look and sound the part to perfection and make the wonderful premise all the more better.

While this isn't one of the best comedies you will ever see, it is still a classic. You can't go wrong with Capra and Grant. Even if Grant's performance is a little too screwbally at times; these two greats weave a splendid two hours of pure entertainment.

Aunt Martha: 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: Hmm. Should have quite a kick. 
December 29, 2011
Melvin White

Super Reviewer

    1. "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?
    2. Mortimer Brewster: Who?
    3. "Teddy Roosevelt" Brewster: [points to Mr. Witherspoon] Taft!
    – Submitted by Francis L (2 years ago)
    1. Dr. Einstein: You shouldn't have killed him. Just because he know something about us, what happens?
    2. 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 (2 years ago)
    1. Mortimer Brewster: [singing] There is a Happydale, far, far away...
    – Submitted by Francis L (2 years ago)
    1. 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.
    2. Mortimer Brewster: Hmm. Should have quite a kick.
    – Submitted by Francis L (2 years ago)
    1. Dr. Einstein: No, no, Johnny. You cannot count him. You got twelve, they got twelve. The old ladies is just as good as you are!
    – Submitted by Francis L (2 years ago)
    1. "Teddy Roosevelt" Brewster: Charge!
    – Submitted by Brigita S (2 years ago)
View all quotes (8)

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