Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

arsenic-and-old-laceDirected by Frank Capra, starring Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Raymond Massey, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff, this film consistently shows up on lists of all-time favourites. There are 235 user reviews of it on alone – all of them giving a glowing assessments of a classic black (and white!) comedy that bears repeated viewing. It even has its own Facebook page!


Mortimer Brewster, a drama critic and author known for his diatribes against marriage … has just got married. All that is required is a quick trip home to tell his two maiden aunts the good news before heading off on a honeymoon. But while trying to break the news, he discovers his aunts’ hobby; killing lonely old men and burying them in the cellar. Just when it seems it can’t gets worse – it does. As well as his beloved maiden aunts being homicidal maniacs, it turns out that insanity runs in his family! Don’t you just hate it when that happens!


Although the lead was originally intended for Bob Hope, he could not be released from his contract with Paramount (thank goodness!) so it is now indelibly linked with Cary Grant.

This madcap comedy has hilariously sinister performances from Massey and Lorre. There are also ‘in-jokes’ that refer to other movies. In the cellar scene, for example, Jonathan’s (Massey’s) shadow looms on the wall over Dr. Einstein (Lorre), reflecting Lorre’s own signature performance in “M” (1932) when the shadow of Hans Beckert (Lorre) looms over a little girl. And there are numerous references to Frankenstein (1931) connected to Karloff’s character – but then people keep saying Jonathan looks a lot like Boris Karloff (who who isn’t played by Karloff but who Karloff played in the Broadway production of this film). Then there is a scene in which Grant’s drama critic describes the story of a really, really bad play he’s just seen … and everything he describes is going on right behind his back!

If you have never seen this film then it is essential that you do! And if you have seen it … well you know that there are so many great performances in it that it just gets funnier with every viewing.

And if you’re still not convinced that this a MUST SEE then read this review from Film School Rejects  which, every Sunday, presents a movie that was made before you were born and tells you why you should like it.


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