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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 43.75%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 3.13%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 26 user ratings

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Arsenic and Old Lace
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by Natasha Theobald

"Sinister spinsters on the loose!"
4 stars

This family is completely crazy, and they have the body count to prove it. From the uncle who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt to the aunts who tempt lonely gentlemen with elderberry wine spiked with a dash or two of poison, Mortimer has his hands completely full.

Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) is a dramatic critic and a confirmed bachelor to such an extent that he has written several books about the fraud of marriage. Then he meets the right woman (Priscilla Lane). They stop between their civil ceremony and a Niagara Falls honeymoon for her to pack at her father's house, which happens to be just across from the home of his lovely spinster aunts (Josephine Hull and Jean Adair). He can't wait to tell them the news. Unfortunately, they also have been keeping themselves busy.

In the course of Mortimer's visit, he stumbles upon a body hidden in the window seat. It seems the sweetest old ladies in the neighborhood have taken to relieving old men of their loneliness by killing them and giving them a nice, Christian burial in the cellar, a public service of sorts. While trying to deal with this matter and "Teddy Roosevelt" (John Alexander) upstairs, as well as keeping his new wife and their taxi waiting, Mortimer gradually unhinges, an ordinary man thrown into the most extraordinary of circumstances.

When Mortimer leaves the house to get a judge to sign commitment papers for his uncle, his brother Jonathan (Raymond Massey) comes home, along with his partner in crime, Dr. Einstein (Peter Lorre). They, too, have a body to add to the collection downstairs. While everyone else is the fun, zany kind of crazy, though, Jonathan is a psychopathic sort of nuts. He's a scary guy with some bad memories of his time in this house. He is more than willing to bring his particular brand of trouble home. Around Jonathan, no one is safe. Some days a little arsenic wine on hand doesn't sound like a bad idea.

The roles of the aunts were originated by the same actresses on Broadway, and they know them well. They are sweet old ladies with big hearts swept up in some do-gooding gone bad. John Alexander is antic as "Teddy Roosevelt," blowing a bugle and charging up the stairs. Peter Lorre is creepy fun as Dr. Einstein. Priscilla Lane seems like the kind of girl who could get a bachelor-for-life to take that walk down the aisle.

The part of Jonathan was played by Boris Karloff on Broadway. Unlike Hull and Adair, he couldn't be spared from the production to be in the film, as he was a large part of the draw for the audience. There are several references to Jonathan looking like Boris Karloff, but I don't know if they were part of the play because of him or if they are little jokes about him not being in the movie. Raymond Massey does a great job at being scary. A darkness settles over everything when he shows up. He truly inspires dread and discomfort.

Cary Grant is at the center of everything, and he is full of energy and life. It seems almost unfair that someone so handsome could also be such an agile comedic actor, but he certainly was blessed with great talent. Watching him react as things grow wildly absurd and then dark and dangerous was a pleasure. There was a light in the room when he was there. I don't know if they make movie stars like they used to.

Add this Frank Capra black comedy to your list of movies to rent. Although a bit overly theatrical, this movie hasn't lost its sharp edge in the 60+ years since it was made.

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originally posted: 02/04/03 07:41:28
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User Comments

4/12/15 stanley welles good macabre fun 4 stars
12/15/07 Pamela White very funny movie Cary grant is classic 5 stars
7/22/07 gr117 Hilarious! 5 stars
1/11/06 tatum Wonderful, Grant is hilarious 5 stars
10/25/04 Tom Ciorciari A wonderful halloween present for all! 5 stars
8/23/04 john bale Frenetic classic comedy albeit from the stage. Terrific cast and direction. Many laughs. 4 stars
8/07/04 ranger4e One of the funniest movies ever! 5 stars
6/15/04 T. Maj So funny even Frank Capra couldn't screw it up 5 stars
12/13/03 Eliza Raymond Massey kicks butt! 5 stars
10/26/03 Andrea Brilliant character study and comedy 5 stars
9/17/03 Alan This IS one of the classics - a must see. 5 stars
4/09/03 Tom Alden Classic portrayal for the camera of a very well known play. 4 stars
4/05/03 DC quite funny 5 stars
3/19/03 jon doe it is a good movie for any one who is willing to sit down and watch it 4 stars
2/15/03 Chris Not one of the classics but still proves fun. I didn't find the brother storyline funny. 4 stars
2/08/03 mr. Pink Very stagey and some weak performances (Grant hated his). Bad farce. 2 stars
2/05/03 Krysiek Superbly charming. Excellent script. Great characters. 5 stars
7/20/02 Dr. Ron Chapél This is a great film that displays Grants true comedic talent. 5 stars
1/23/02 Andrew Carden Any Jew Out There Will Agree That This Rocked. 5 stars
11/28/01 Danielle Ophelia™ Is the reviewer SHITTING me?? This is a fuckin' masterpiece!!! 5 stars
9/02/01 Reini Urban There are only a few better black comedies. (Lubitsch, ..) 5 stars
7/03/01 R.W. Welch Off beat comedy classic with Grant in fine form. 4 stars
3/15/01 Richard Wright Classic Hollywood farce. They don't make 'em like they used to. 4 stars
11/18/00 salvo a masterpiece. Great Capra and Cary Grant 5 stars
1/04/00 Jack Arnold Acomic masterpiece! Every role acted to perfection. C. Grant should have received an oscar. 5 stars
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  23-Sep-1944 (NR)



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