Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

Arsenic and Old Lace
Cary Grant, Raymond Massey and Peter Lorre

'Arsenic and Old Lace' is a black comedy movie made in 1941 and released in 1944, directed by Frank Capra and starring Cary Grant, Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, Raymond Massey, and Peter Lorre. The movie was based on the stage play by Joseph Kesselring which ran for over three and a half years on Broadway from 1941. The screen play was by Julius and Philip Epstein, a writing team with a first class record in movie adaptations.

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Josephine Hull, Jean Adair and John Alexander were recruited from the long-running stage production to re-create their roles in the film. The film was shot during an 8 week period in 1941 but Warners were legally obliged to wait until the play finished its run before releasing it. This they were unable to do until September, 1944.

The movie has been universally praised by critics and public alike although it was ignored by the Academy Award Committee. In the American Film Industry's 100 Years... 100 Laughs it is ranked at number 30.

The movie has an unusual subject for a comedy film - multiple murders. The macabre subject matter is artfully and tasefully handled by Frank Capra so as not to cause anything other than hilarity in the audience. It is a genuinely funny movie with a wonderful dialogue and brilliant acting by the principals and supporting cast alike.

Cary Grant plays drama critic Mortimer Brewster whose world gets turned upside down when he takes his new wife (Pricilla Lane) to his childhood home to meet the family and discovers that his two aged aunts are completely mad and have poisoned twelve elderly bachelors and buried them in the cellar. The aunts are sublimely played by Josephine Hull and Jean Adair. They are so joyously innocent and nonchalant about their twelve murders, that we only view them as eccentric old dears, and not as wicked murderers.

Cary Grant is at his best in this sort of manic role, trying desperately to keep a lid on the madness around him. His double takes and shocked expressions are wonderful to see. The supporting cast is first class with Peter Lorre in the role of a completely weird plastic surgeon, and Raymond Massey, as Jonathan, Grant's brother, who is also a serial murderer. The upside down surreal world is completed by John Alexander, Jack Carson, Edward Everett Horton, James Gleason and Garry Owen, all of whom play insanity to the hilt.

The result of the brilliant cast, wonderful script and sensitive direction is a quite magnificent, classic comedy, one of the best in cinema history.

Main Cast

Cary Grant ... Mortimer Brewster
Josephine Hull ... Aunt Abby Brewster
Jean Adair ... Aunt Martha Brewster
Raymond Massey ... Jonathan Brewster
Peter Lorre ... Dr. Herman Einstein
Priscilla Lane ... Elaine Harper Brewster
John Alexander ... Teddy "Roosevelt" Brewster
Jack Carson ... Officer Patrick O'Hara
John Ridgely ... Officer Sanders
Edward McNamara ... Police Sgt. Brophy
James Gleason ... Police Lt. Rooney
Edward Everett Horton ... Mr. Witherspoon


Director ... Frank Capra
Producer ... Frank Capra, Jack L. Warner
Screenplay ... Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein
Original ... Based on the play by Joseph Kesselring
Music ... Max Steiner
Cinematography ... Sol Polito
Editing ... Carl Lerner
Distribution Company ... Warner Bros.
Release date ... September 23, 1944
Running time ... 118 minutes

Academy Awards

No Nominations: