Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

Title: Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

Director: Frank Capra

Synopsis: Cary Grant plays Mortimer Brewster, a young adult who was raised by his two dear sweet aunts. Mortimer secretly marries Elaine Harper (played by Priscilla Lane) and plans to run away on a honeymoon to Niagara Falls. First, Mortimer goes to tell his aunts about his new marriage to Elaine. His aunts are thrilled and want to throw him a little party. While Mortimer is looking around the house for some things, his stumbles across the dead body of an old man in the window seat. Mortimer is shocked and is trying to figure out how that body got there. Mortimer’s brother, Teddy, still lives with their two aunts. Teddy thinks that he is Theodore Roosevelt. Because of his mentality, Mortimer thinks that his brother must be the culprit. When he breaks the news to his aunts that Teddy has killed someone and needs to be sent to the sanitarium, Mortimer gets the surprise of his life when he learns that his aunts are responsible for this man’s death. The two old ladies feel that they are helping put old lonely men out of their misery by poisoning them with elderberry wine and arsenic. This man was their twelfth victim. The rest of the movie, lined with comedy, is about how Mortimer is trying to deal with the body while unexpected people, including his wife and long lost psychopath brother Jonathan (who shows up with a body of his own), continuously show up and interrupt Mortimer and create more havoc and many more laughs.

Review: I have always enjoyed watching this movie and I have been watching it for years. I like the characters in this movie. I think that all of the actors did a great job playing their parts. The characters are fun. I especially liked Peter Lorre who played Dr. Einstein because of his mannerisms and his voice. I enjoy this type of comedy even though I am not sure of the genre name of it. I like the silliness of the comedy with the underlying dark humor.

I did not recognize the name of the director but once I looked up him and the other movies that he directed, I immediately realized that I had seen several of his movies. In fact, I think that his movie You Can’t Take It with You has a very similar type of comedy. The characters are also very similar to other movies. For example, Capra also directed It’s A Wonderful Life two years later and there are some similarities in the police office characters and in the taxi driver characters of both movies. The overall feeling of Arsenic And Old Lace and It’s A Wonderful Life have a similar tone and feeling.

There is one scene in the movie that I did not like. Towards the end when everything is falling apart and Mortimer is overwhelmed, he begins to act crazy and runs up the stairs pretending he is charging with a sword and yells “CHARGE!” (This is something his brother Teddy did every time he went up the stairs). I felt that during this scene, Mortimer’s character was being forced to do this; it did not feel natural. Overall though, this is a great classic, a lighthearted comedy about murder.


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