Arsenic and Old Lace: Classic Black Comedy

Produced in 1944, this classic black comedy shines with the excellent performances of Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, Raymond Massie, Peter Lorre, Josephine Hull and Jean Adair. Set in Brooklyn (where anything can happen and often does, as the introduction to this wonderful film reads), this tale is about a drama critic (Cary Grant) who discovers on his wedding day that his two prim and beloved aunts (Josephine Hull and Jean Adair) are in reality, homicidal maniacs.

This unlikely premise is brought not only to logical but also hysterical conclusions under the brilliant direction of Frank Capra. Joseph Epstein wrote the screenplay and it was based on an original play by Joseph Kesserling. The story is a brilliant farce and certainly a contender for one of the funniest movies ever made.

Plot twists and side characters absorb the audience and keep them rapt and laughing in their seats. The dialogue is hilarious. One sequence that comes to mind involves a body in a loveseat. When Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) goes to sit down, he opens the seat, and what follows is a hilarious sequence of realization that it is indeed a dead body he is looking at. When he asks if the body is that of a man who was recently reported missing, his aunts reply, “No, he’s an imposter.”

The comedic talent of Cary Grant is never more prominent than in his role as Mortimer Brewster. His facial expressions are extremely funny and so are the lines that come out of his oh, so handsome mouth. The co-stars are wonderful too: Raymond Massie as ne’er do well Johnathan Brewster, Peter Lorre as his strange accomplice, Dr. Einstein and Priscilla Lane as the poor hapless wife, Elaine, whose name her husband keeps forgetting. And last but not least, don’t forget John Alexander, who so deftly portrays Uncle Teddy Brewster, the mad brother who thinks he is Theodore Roosevelt and that his basement is the Panama Canal.

The movie is wild and madcap and most important, wonderful diversion and a lot of fun.

What are some of YOUR favorite moments from this wonderful film?

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About Marjorie Dorfman

Marjorie Dorfman is a freelance writer and former teacher originally from Brooklyn, New York. A graduate of New York University School of Education, she now lives in Doylestown, PA, with quite a few cats that keep her on her toes at all times. Originally a writer of ghostly and horror fiction, she has branched out into the world of humorous non-fiction writing in the last decade. Many of her stories have been published in various small presses throughout the country during the last twenty years. Her book of stories, "Tales For A Dark And Rainy Night", reflects her love and respect for the horror and ghost genre.