Friday, October 21, 2016

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)


So October doesn’t just mean horror and bloody death. Sometimes you just want to have some fun with some Golden Age humor, macabre storylines and a heaping helping of insanity. Sounds like Halloween right?


Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) just wants to start off on his honeymoon with his lovely new wife Elaine (Priscilla Lane). All he has to do is stop by his Aunt Abby (Josephine Hull) and Martha’s (Jean Adair) house to tell them the good news. He just happens to look in the window seat and sees a dead old man stuffed in there!

Has his uncle Teddy (John Alexander) finally gone off the deep end? Or is it the work of Mortimer’s wicked brother Jonathan (Raymond Massey) who just happens to look a lot like Boris Karloff? Or maybe Dr. Einstein (Peter Lorre) knows what happened. In any case Mortimer better figure out this mystery quickly, because there are cops snooping around and they may get the idea that the combo of Arsenic and Old Lace is not as innocent as it seems.

Good Points:
  • Some very funny and quotable dialogue.
  • Does a good job balancing the macabre with humor
  • Moves along at a pretty good pace

Bad Points:
  • As good as Massey is, you really wish Karloff had been available
  • Some of the humor may not hold up for modern viewers
  • Grant spends quite a bit of time mugging for the camera


All around, this movie is a fun time. The character are all entertaining, even if Grant is pulling faces a lot of the time. But things really get exciting when Massey and Lorre enter and almost steal the show. Everyone is having a great time and there is a lot of energy to the whole film. It’s perfect viewing for a lazy Sunday in October, or for any fans of classic comedies with a dark twist.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 4
Script: 4
Music: 3
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.

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  1. Definitely fun movie, though my personal reaction to it is affected by having first seen not the movie but a stage performance of the play by the drama club at my sister’s high school. To this day I cannot see the movie without also picturing those teen actors including the one who, as you can imagine, looked a great deal less like Boris Karloff than did Raymond Massey. That however, is my own idiosyncrasy. Is “I Married a Witch” with Veronica Lake on your October watch list?

    1. LOL. Yeah that can be an issue. I actually performed in "The Man Who Came to Dinner" in high school. And no matter how many times I see the movie, I keep remembering other members of my high school cast in the parts.

      I need to check out "I Married a Witch". You've mentioned it before and it sounds like a good one.

    2. Good for election season: Frederic March in the flick is running for governor.

  2. Yes, it is a good movie. A guess some of Grant's early work sort of fell in the screwball comedy-type genre. Even though they still make them, the earlier ones work best. I was reading someone who was talking about the 60s sitcom, The Monkees, which I used to love when I was younger. He compared them to a mix of the Marx brothers and something else (I forget oft hand). At the time I just found them silly and the music fun, but yeah, good description.

    1. Ok, now that you frame "The Monkees" that way, I totally see it. There was a bit of Marx brothers in there.

      I'm not usually a big fan the screwball comedies of the era, but this one's macabre flavoring makes it much more enjoyable to me.