Arsenic and Old Lace
Directed by: Frank Capra
Running Time: 1 hour, 58 minutes
Cary Grant as Mortimer Brewster
Josephine Hull and Jean Adair as the Brewster sisters
Raymond Massey as Jonathon Brewster
Peter Lorre as Dr Einstein
John Alexander as Teddy Brewster
Priscilla Lane as Elaine Harper
Arsenic and Old Lace, directed brilliantly by Frank Capra, is arguably one of the best films of the early 1940's. This black and white classic was originally filmed in 1941, but since it was running on Broadway at that time with a successful run of 1,444 performances, it was not released until 1944.
The film stars Cary Grant, who gives a wonderful performance with his usual dry wit and slapstick comedy, as Mortimer, a young drama critic who has recently gotten married and is on his way to his honeymoon. Before they set out for Niagra Falls, they stop to collect her luggage and to say farewell to his aunts, the Brewster sisters. The Brewster sisters, two nice elderly ladies who live with their brother Teddy (who, as we find out, believes he's Teddy Roosevelt, which causes many laughs in the film) and have a room they rent out to elderly men who stop to rest for the night. It's not long into the film that Mortimer discovers his aunts are poisoning the men who stop by because they believe the men are unhappy and try to help them. Teddy unknowingly helps them by burying the bodies in the cellar. Although this sounds very dark and rather hard to believe, the cast turns it into a great routine and makes it hilarious.
Just as Mortimer is starting to have things under control, his brother Jonathon, who he thought was in jail, shows up with his plastic surgeon sidekick, Dr Einstein, played by Peter Lorre. The role of Jonathon was originally going to be played by Boris Karloff, but as he was tied up at this period, Raymond Massey, a Boris Karloff look-alike, plays him instead. Massey is so convincing in this role that it wasn't until the other day, after being a fan of the film for five years, that I discovered it wasn't Karloff. Anyway, Jonathon turns out to be a murderer of eleven people, and when he finds out his aunts have killed twelve, he is deeply upset. As you might have guessed already, this causes him to think of his brother Jonathon, who he has never liked. This again sounds dark, but it is quickly turned into something clever and funny to watch.
Arsenic and Old Lace will be enjoyed by most audiences, but younger kids might find it a little slow at times. Unrated, it has little violence and the only thing that might scare kids is the frequent talk of murder - which is done jokingly in most cases.
Five stars out of five