Pick Your Poison

Arsenic and Old Lace is Frank Capra’s Halloween equivalent of It’s a Wonderful Life (released 2 years later). Although I was familiar with the title, it was mostly my mom who recommended it as an unconventional Halloween movie. Arsenic and Old Lace takes place on one eventful Halloween night in a creepy old house. Much like the 1941 Joseph Kesselring play that it’s based on. Though the story is black comedy, Arsenic and Old Lace is true Frank Capra with the nervous protagonist to match. This was the youngest I’ve seen Cary Grant who puts his physical comedy skills to good use.

Mortimer Brewster writes against marriage, but gets married himself to the lovely Elaine played by Priscilla Lane. Their nuptials are almost inconsequential when we’re introduced to the entire Brewster family. Aunt Abby and Aunt Martha seem like sweet old ladies, but they’ve secretly been poisoning 12 lonely men in an act of mercy killing. Mortimer’s insane brother who thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt has been burying them in the basement. It’s both shocking and hilarious when he learns the truth. Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, and John Alexander are the only returning cast members from the play.

Boris Karloff is the most famous face who couldn’t leave the play. Instead Raymond Massey plays Mortimer’s maniac brother Jonathan who arrives with his own dead body. Peter Lorre unsurprisingly plays his creepy doctor Einstein who made him resemble Karloff. Jack Carson is oblivious as one of the bumbling police officers, but John Ridgely is the more strait-laced officer who arrests Jonathan. Edward Everett Horton is the head of the mental institution who has everyone else committed. Arsenic and Old Lace is criminally insane and criminally underrated.

Arsenic and Old Lace

Jonathan and Dr. Einstein tie up Mortimer

10 thoughts on “Pick Your Poison

  1. This was a great movie.

    And I never thought of Arsenic and Old Lace as being a Halloween equivalent of Frank Capra’s Christmas classic It’s A Wonderful Life until you mentioned it just now.

    But you’re spot on.

    Priscilla Lane doesn’t appear too often in this film but she’s a wonderful actress.

    Since she was an actress who wisely and eventually left Hollywood for a normal life, she’s little heard of today save among TCM fans.

    But she showed how talented she was when she played in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1942 film Saboteur.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I often think of this as the first, and one & only really, Screwball Dark Comedy, especially given much of the subject matter. What also makes it unique is that it’s funny and chaotic throughout with only one or two moments of seriousness when Raymond Massey has Cary Grant tied up and ready to do harm to him. It is a good Halloween movie for something funny.

    Liked by 1 person

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