Classic Woman-Centric Movie Review: “Arsenic and Old Lace”

Happy Friday, witches and werewolves! Let’s start this pre-Halloween weekend out right with the best (in my opinion) Halloween movie there is: Arsenic and Old Lace. That’s right, we’re leaving the very scary parts of Halloween to Slay Belle and going with more of funny-scary this weekend. The movie stars Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Peter Lorre, and Raymond Massey. The film is directed by Frank Capra, and was adapted from the play by Joseph Kesselring. While the movie was filmed in 1941, it wasn’t released until 1944.

Still from Arsenic and Old Lace of three men talkingMortimer Brewster (Grant), a successful play critic and New York’s most eligible bachelor, secretly marries his fiancee, Elaine Harper (Lane), who lived next door to him, at city hall on Halloween. When he arrives home to tell his aunts Abby and Martha and his brother Teddy (who believes he’s Teddy Roosevelt) the good news, he discovers a dead body in the window seat. It’s then that he discovers that his aunts have a little charity project of their own: they give old, lonely men whom they take in as boarders elderberry wine mixed with arsenic, strychnine, and Arsenic and Old Lace poster“just a pinch of cyanide.” Once the old bachelors die, Teddy, under the impression that he’s burying victims of yellow fever who died during the construction of the Erie Canal, secrets them in the basement. Mortimer is gob- smacked when he also finds out insanity runs in the family.

Things get worse when Mortimer’s sociopath brother Jonathan (Massey), on the run from the police, arrives at the house with his alcoholic plastic surgeon Dr. Herman Einstein (Lorre) and a body of his own to hide. Jonathan needs a new face on the fly because Einstein has botched the latest surgery, the results of which left Jonathan looking like Boris Karloff as Frankenstein. Tension mounts and hilarity ensues as each character finds out just what exactly is occurring and the killers try to conceal all of the bodies in the house before the police find out what’s going on.

Mortimer talking to his aunts
Mortimer and his aunts.

The movie itself is a classic screwball comedy, which Grant is rather known for, but the situations and the characters are so zany that you can’t stop laughing throughout the whole movie. There’s a lot of physical comedy, too, so it’s almost like a slapstick with a little bit of black humor thrown in as Mortimer tries to right himself and get himself out of a pickle before he leaves on his honeymoon with his bride. While it’s relatively family-friendly, there are some parts which might not be exactly inappropriate for younger kids, if it doesn’t go over their heads. But what does it matter? They’ll be too busy watching everyone run around like chickens with their heads cut off anyhow.

So if you like movies that are light on the scary and heavy on the funny, watch this one this weekend, particularly since it might be on showing on television, as it always does this time of year.



2 replies on “Classic Woman-Centric Movie Review: “Arsenic and Old Lace””

I adore this movie. Even got the man to watch it and he said it was excellent (he likes his movies with lots of quippy dialogue and action but usually a bit faster moving than older movies such as this) Arsenic and Old Lace is a classic. Also remember seeing a local production of it in my hometown where they got the windowbox to squeak like I’ve never heard before, it was hilarious.

Leave a Reply