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"Arsenic and Old Lace"

"Arsenic & Old Lace"

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Character's Name: Mortimer Brewster
Release Date:  September 23, 1944
Director: Frank Capra
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Running Time: 118 minutes

Cast: Cary Grant (Mortimer Brewster), Raymond Massey (Jonathan Brewster), Priscilla Lane (Elaine Harper), Josephine Hull (Abby Brewster), Jean Adair (Martha Brewster), Jack Carson (O'Hara), Edward Everett Horton (Mr. Witherspoon), Peter Lorre (Dr. Einstein) James Gleason (Lt. Rooney), John Alexander ("Teddy Roosevelt" Brewster), Grant Mitchell (Reverend Harper), Edward McNamara (Brophy), Garry Owen (Taxi Cab Driver), John Ridgely (Saunders), Vaughan Glaser (Judge Cullman)

- by Zoë Shaw
Mortimer, a drama critic, has just got married and is about to go on his honeymoon when he discovers insanity runs in his family. His sweet maiden aunts poison lonely old men and have a number of corpses buried in the cellar.....

- by Heather Doughty

A film adaptation of the popular stage play, Arsenic and Old Lace is a hilarious movie perfect for people of all ages. The story of Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant), the youngest of three brothers who were raised by two dear, but  eccentric, spinster aunts, who have a nasty little habit of "putting poor souls" out of their misery with a little arsenic-laced elderberry wine. It is delightful to watch Mortimer go from a nice, normal, newlywed to a nervous, neurotic mess as he tries to figure a way out of the predicament his well-meaning aunts have placed them all in.  Throw in one brother who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt, another who is a psychopathic killer fashioned after Boris Karloff, and Peter Lorre as Dr. Einstein, a slightly intoxicated make-shift plastic surgeon, and you'll be laughing the entire way through. All of the performances were wonderful, but Cary Grant's facial expressions, double takes, and hilarious body language are a joy to watch. A truly classic, funny movie.

"No, I'm not drunk, Madame.......but you've given me an idea!" - Mortimer, seething in frustration as he tries to get past the operator, so that he can get his family committed into the HappyDale Sanitarium.

"Insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops!" - Mortimer, trying to explain to his new bride why it would be best for her to leave him and never look back.

VARIETY Film Review - September 6, 1944
by "Char"
- submitted by Barry Martin
'Arsenic and Old Lace,' which recently closed a run on Broadway that ran 3-1/2 years has, in the highly capable hands of producer-director Frank Capra, become riotous screen entertainment. It faces no obstacles toward sales acceptance in any type of situation. It is definitely in the higher brackets as money-getter.

Despite the fact that picture runs 118 minutes, Capra has expanded on the original play to a sufficient extent to maintain a steady, consistent pace. With what he has crammed into the running time film doesn't seem that long. Though the scope of the camera permits some outside and extraneous scenes, the majority of the action is confined to one set, that of the home of the two amiably nutty aunts who believe it's kind to poison people they come in contact with and their non-violently insane brother who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt.

Cary Grant, starred, and Priscilla Lane, featured, are paired romantically. They open the picture getting married but are delayed in their honeymoon when Grant finds his two screwy aunts have been bumping off people in their house, burying them in the cellar and even holding thoughtful funeral ceremonies for them. The laughs that surround his efforts to get John Alexander, the "Teddy Roosevelt" of the picture, committed to an institution; troubles that come up when a maniacal long-lost brother shows up after a world tour of various murders with a phony doctor, and other plot elements make for diversion of a very agreeable character. Spicing are thriller-diller ingredients. In one sudden instance, when the action is tense, there was a spontaneous audience scream at the N.Y. Strand, where picture was caught, followed by laughs, which Capra apparently hadn't figured on. With no timing to permit for this, considerable dialog goes downstream as a result though doubtless of little importance.

Capra's production, not elaborate, captures the color and spirit of the play, while the able writing team of Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein has turned in a very workable, tightly-compressed script. Capra's own intelligent direction rounds out.

Grant, who ultimately learns he isn't related to the unbalanced but genial aunts and the guy who's supposed to be his wacky brother, turns in a hectic, fast-working performance. Outstanding are the two aunts, Josephine Hull and Jean Adair, from the original Broadway cast, together with Alexander, also of the show's cast. Miss Lane, somewhat lesser as to cast stature, does a creditable job as the harassed bride anxious to get going on her honeymoon. Cop role is played evenly by Jack Carson, while James Gleason, in te action toward the end, has several good moments to offer his audiences. He plays a police official who's as dumbfounded as others over what's going on. Edward Everett Horton is the sanitarium super and okay, as usual. Exceptionally good are Massey and Lorre, the former looking like Boris Karloff as result of facial operations to cloak his identity. Lorre as the doctor who performed them and likes his grog.

Warners has had this picture on spools for a long time, withholding release until now. Since it isn't the type that becomes dated, it has given precedence to other of its productions. 

NEW YORK TIMES Film Review - September 2, 1944
by P.P.K.
- submitted by Barry Martin
As a whole "Arsenic and Old Lace," the Warner picture which came to the Strand yesterday, is good macabre fun. That it is not one of the top-ranking pictures of the year is attributable to two or three outstanding faults, any one of which could wreck a less sturdy vehicle. Frank Capra has put into the picture all of the riotous farce, gentle naiveté and broad melodrama that Messrs. Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse put originally into the Joseph Kesselring stage play.

That Mr. Capra wasn't satisfied with the stage product and insisted on adding a few camera capers of his own doesn't do the picture any good. Fact is it does the picture some harm because it not only pads out an already-padded play but it also adds length to a picture which was built for speed rather than heavy hauling.

As an example, the picture opens on a now fairly tiresome note about strange and unpredictable Brooklyn, and nurses the laugh along with a riot scene at Ebbets Field, a scene which has no apparent reason for being in the film at all. From there it switches to a high-octane schmaltz sequence in the marriage license bureau, where, above all things, people are getting marriage licenses, Cary Grant and Priscilla Lane among them. Then there is another sequence of fancy chasing and necking in the Brooklyn cemetery, and, finally, guess what, the story of "Arsenic and Old Lace."

Mr. Grant, as usual, turns in a creditable performance although his energy is likely to wear down, eventually, the stoutest spectator. As a hyper-vitaminized drama critic, he bounds, bellows, howls and mugs through practically two hours and that, combined with the inevitable mugging of Jack Carson, makes those two hours long ones indeed. To offset this, practically all the efforts of Josephine Hull and Jean Adair, as the two gentle poison-cup artists, are required to keep the show on an even keel. They're delightful in their roles.

The picture serves to welcome back Raymond Massey after an extended leave. While it is a little breath-taking to hear "Honest Abe" shambling around sounding like Lincoln but looking like Boris Karloff, that's the condition that prevails. John Alexander doesn't seem to wring the full flavor from his Teddy Roosevelt Brewster role, and, speaking of Roosevelt, the numerous political gag lines which went over so well in the stage play seem to fall more or less flat with the picture audience.

As it stands, "Arsenic and Old Lace" offers a large number of laughs and some genuine melodramatic thrills along with some cut-rate hokum. If you can be comfortable with the latter, the former will furnish a fair-to-middling reward.

Click here to read Susanna's review of "Arsenic & Old Lace"

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