Arsenic and Old Lace

1944

Arsenic and Old Lace

Critics Consensus

No consensus yet.

88%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 25

92%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 45,501
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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.

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Cast

Cary Grant
as Mortimer Brewster
Raymond Massey
as Jonathan Brewster
Josephine Hull
as Abby Brewster
John Alexander
as `Teddy Roosevelt' Brewster
Priscilla Lane
as Elaine Harper
Jean Adair
as Martha Brewster
Edward Everett Horton
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 Clerk
Hank Mann
as Photographer
Lee Phelps
as Umpire
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Critic Reviews for Arsenic and Old Lace

All Critics (25) | Top Critics (4)

Audience Reviews for Arsenic and Old Lace

  • Feb 01, 2017
    Cary Grant believes he overplayed his character in 'Arsenic and Old Lace', and I agree, he's over-the-top. At times his frantic jumping around and shocked facial expressions are funny, such as when he tells his aunts early on that they really oughtn't to be poisoning their visitors by saying "Look, you can't do things like that! Now, I don't know how I can explain this to you, but it's not only against the law, its wrong! It's not a nice thing to do. People wouldn't understand. He wouldn't understand. What I mean is, well, this is developing into a very bad habit!" ... all while hunched over and gesticulating. This is a loud movie, with one brother believing he's Teddy Roosevelt yelling 'Charge!' as he runs up the stairs and slams his bedroom door repeatedly, characters rapidly entering scenes in a pell-mell confusion of trying to hide bodies, threaten each other, commit others to mental institutions, etc etc. It's also all over the map. At first I thought Capra may have threaded the needle and been able to deliver both a dark comedy and a drama, since Raymond Massey's glowering and Peter Lorre's simpering are quite sinister, and a nice counterpart to Cary Grant and the sweet old ladies played so wonderfully by Josephine Hull and Jean Adair. However, the movie dragged on, and was far too long at 118 minutes. Some may like the madcap frenzy Capra created based on the stage play, and I have to say there are some nice moments and lines ("Insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops."), but overall the movie gets to be a little much, and doesn't stand the test of time, at least for me.
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • Oct 14, 2014
    Hilarious black comedy starring Cary Grant, based on the Broadway stage play of the same name. Mortimer is a successful man about to be married, he went home to visit his insane family and discovered his aunties are serial killers. A hide and seek ensures as Cary tried to prevent people from finding out about the murders even though everyone seemed oblivious to the situation. It's got excellent humour and performance thanks to Cary Grant. Though it may seem sligthly far fetched in the modern context, but lovers of classic Hollywood would not want to miss this masterpiece.
    Sylvester K Super Reviewer
  • Jun 28, 2014
    Its a great adaptation of the play, and Capra finds lots of interesting visual choices without loosing the madcap theatricality that makes the source material so enduring. Grant's facial expressions are hilarious.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • May 08, 2014
    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 M Super Reviewer

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