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205 of 210 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2000
Arsenic and Old Lace has been a family Halloween tradition for years. In some ways it might be called the original horror spoof: Two sweet old ladies poison lonely old men as a "charity" and bury them in the cellar, and no sooner does their stable nephew find out about this (while preparing to leave for his honeymoon) than his long-lost homicidal brother returns with a face like Frankenstein's monster.
Cary Grant knew his way around a comedy, so it's easy to believe when his character Mortimer grows more and more frazzled throughout the night, jumping from one problem to the next so quickly that he can't even remember he's just been married that day. In his place, juggling four insane relatives (three of them killers), a handful of cops, and two dead bodies, we'd all feel the worse for wear. The pace is quick, almost frantic at times; complications and plot twists come faster than anyone in the movie can handle them. The only characters who aren't perturbed and thrown completely out of their elements by the affair are the rest of the Brewster family, who are all crazy anyway.
The dark comedy genre is full of films that are a little too graphic or disturbing for kids (and even some adults), but this one's not quite so dark, and wildly funny enough to entertain all ages. And no matter how young or old you are, no matter how normal a family you have, you won't be able to help but chuckle when the harried Mortimer takes a breather to explain to his new wife: "Insanity runs in my family.... It practically gallops."
The DVD transfer is flawless; the clarity is wonderful. Pop some popcorn and watch it with the whole family.
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108 of 114 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2002
Frank Capra delivers a great film adaptation of Joseph Kesselring's Broadway hit, "Arsenic and Old Lace". Originally filmed in 1941 just prior to WWII, but not released until 1944 because of the contract agreement to allow the play to complete its Broadway run. (The play ran for 1,444 performances.)
Cary Grant in the leading role as nephew, Mortimer Brewster is at his comedic best in this black comedy of wine, family & insanity. His 2 fabulous Aunts played by Josephine Hull & Jean Adair were encored to the screen and are perfect in their roles. Boris Karloff's obligations prevented him from doing the movie and was replaced by Raymond Massey in the movie version as Grant madcap brother. The great ensemble cast also included Peter Lorre, Edward Everett Horton, Priscilla Lane & John Alexander as a delightful zany crazy, thinking he is President "Teddy Roosevelt".
Summary: It is Halloween, Mortimers wedding day & his life is about to change forever. Visiting his 2 Aunts (Hull & Adair) with his wife (Lane - Ministers daughter!) on their way to their honeymoon to Niagara Falls discovers a body in the window seat. Thinking his crazy cousin, (Alexander) has committed the crime approaches his Aunts. They not only know about the body, but they know who he was & how he died. Their elderberry wine laced with a mixture of arsenic. Oh by the way, he is the 12th to be buried in the cellar. What is Mortimer to do & is his entire family insane? We began a very entertaining & hilarious journey to answering these & many more questions.
This DVD is an excellent Black & White Full Screen (before WideScreen) transfer. Extras include Production notes.
"Arsenic and Old Lace" film adaptation is very close to the actual Broadway play & is a great classic to have in your DVD library. Enjoy.
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45 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2003
Plot: Mortimer, a drama critic, has just got married and is about to go on his honeymoon when he discovers insanity runs in his family. His sweet maiden aunts poison lonely old men and have a number of corpses buried in the cellar.....
A film adaptation of the popular stage play, Arsenic and Old Lace is a hilarious movie perfect for people of all ages. The story of Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant), the youngest of three brothers who were raised by two dear, but eccentric, spinster aunts, who have a nasty little habit of "putting poor souls" out of their misery with a little arsenic-laced elderberry wine.
It is delightful to watch Mortimer go from a nice, normal, newlywed to a nervous, neurotic mess as he tries to figure a way out of the predicament his well-meaning aunts have placed them all in. Throw in one brother who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt, another who is a psychopathic killer fashioned after Boris Karloff, and Peter Lorre as Dr. Einstein, a slightly intoxicated make-shift plastic surgeon, and you'll be laughing the entire way through.
All of the performances were wonderful, but Cary Grant's facial expressions, double takes, and hilarious body language are a joy to watch. A truly classic, funny movie.
"No, I'm not drunk, madame.......but you've given me an idea!" - Mortimer, seething in frustration as he tries to get past the operator, so that he can get his family committed into the HappyDale Sanitarium.
"Insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops!" - Mortimer, trying to explain to his new bride why it would be best for her to leave him and never look back.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2003
Cary Grant gives a sparkling performance as Mortimer Brewster, a dramatic critic, who has just gotten married to Elaine (Priscilla Lane). On their way to Niagara Falls for a honeymoon, Mortimer stops by his Aunt Martha (Jean Adair) and Aunt Abby's (Josephine Hull) home in Brooklyn. While searching for papers, he finds a dead man in the window seat! Thinking that his crazy brother, who believes he's President Teddy Roosevelt, murdered the man, Mortimer tells his aunts about his discovery and that he thinks Teddy should be put in a sanitarium immediately. But Martha and Abby aren't shocked about the dead body at all. In fact, they are the ones who killed him and the eleven other men in the cellar! Of course, they don't think what they do is murder -- they think they're doing a charity for lonely, old men by poisoning them with elderberry wine with arsenic in it and giving them a proper burial in their cellar. Stunned that his aunts could do such a thing and not think it's wrong, Mortimer goes on a quest to get Martha, Abby and Teddy all put away at the Happydale Sanitarium. But when Jonathan (Raymond Massey), his cruel and evil brother who nobody has seen in years, shows up with a dead body of his own to get rid of, hilarity ensues!
Arsenic and Old Lace is definitely one of the funniest movies I've ever seen. All of the performances are top-notch, especially Cary Grant's, as the bewildered nephew of two sweet, but crazy ladies. Interestingly, he once said that out of all his movies, this one was his least favorite, due to the overacting. Well, it's my favorite of his!
Do not miss this gem! It is absolutely fabulous.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
This dark comedy starring Cary Grant showcases his incredible gift for the genre. When he and his new wife visit his two eccentric aunts (brilliantly played by Josephine Hull and Jean Adair), they stumble upon a startling discovery - a body. It seems the aunts have not just committed murder this once, but many times. As he weaves his way through his insane relatives to determine the truth, we get a rare treat of just how good Grant's comedic delivery and timing are.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2001
Anyone who has seen Frank Capra's madcap version of Arsenic and Old Lace knows that it is a stunning example of hilarious dark comedy. The story centers around a certain Mr. Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant), who says that insanity "runs in my family. It practically gallops." One day he discovers that his two aunts, Martha and Abby, poison poor old lonely gentlemen as a "charity act." He tries to convince them to stop while committing his brother Teddy (of Roosevelt fame) to the Happydale Sanitarium. At the same time, his new wife Elaine (Pricilla Lane) battles for his affections. The plot picks up when Mortimer's long lost brother Jonathan (Raymond Massey) shows up-- with an eye to kill. His little assistant, Dr. Hermann Einstein (Peter Lorre) is a plastic surgeon who does face jobs on Jonathan to avoid detection from the police. Each one of these performers-- especially Lorre-- do an excellent job of making this screwball comedy a success. Lorre is both funny and touching in his role as a pathetic man who has played henchman to Jonathan for so many years. Watch him as he begs Mortimer to leave the house. How can the viewer not feel pity? A very satisfying and hilarious film.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2000
While I am not a particular advocate of older classics and the movie's premise is a little hard to take, I found this film delightful. This is classic comedy at its best. It is a relief from the slapstick coming of age comedies of today. Many may be familiar with the stage play. This 1944 version is an outstanding adaptation to film.
The story line revolves around the sweet old Brewster sisters (Josephine Hull and Jean Adair) and their efforts to solve loneliness of older bachelors with elderberry wine spiked with arsenic. The sisters' nephew Mortimer (Cary Grant) discovers their secret. Mortimer is not unreasonably concerned that the insainity runs in the family, especially given that his older brother Jonathan (Raymond Massey) is a murderous escaped convict and his uncle Teddy (John Alexander) is convinced that he's really Theodore Roosevelt, (running around the house yelling "CHAAAAARGGGE"). Mortimer isn't keen on starting a family with his new bride, Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane) with the family trait hanging over his head.
One would expect Grant to carry the show with his dry wit (his response to the unexpected, different body in the window seat is arguably the finest sight gag in any movie) but the real stars of the movie are Josephine Hull and Jean Adair (who for some reason are always way down in the list of characters). They steal every scene they are in. The only weakness is casting Peter Lorre as Dr. Einstein, Raymond Massey's sidekick. He adds moodiness to his scenes that detract from the picture's light heartiness. But even he over acts his part and makes it into a parody of his other films. Pick a time when you need to escape and watch it with some friends. If you can get through the entire movie without laughing out loud, you are really depressed.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 2000
A number of classic movies have resulted from adaptations from hit stage plays. "Harvey" and "Life With Father" come to mind. "Arsenic and Old Lace" is another.
From beginning to end, there is never a dull moment in this mad-cap comedy. Don't turn your head, you will miss something. It starts with the marriage of critic Mortimer Brewster, whose new bride lives just across the cemetary from Mortimer's sweet old spinster aunts. Jean Adair and Josephine Hull are wonderful as the aunts, whose secret charity is poisoning elderly bachelor men that they lure to their house by advertising for a boarder. When Mortimer finds a body in the windowseat, things are off and running. Throw in Mortimer's brother, Teddy, who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt, Mortimer's other brother Jonathan, an escaped murderer, Jonathan's accomplice, a plastic surgeon, and a gabby local policeman who writes plays, and the result is a truly hilarious comedy.
"Harvey" and "Arsenic and Old Lace" are among my all-time favorite movies. They are also, as far as I know, the only two movies to feature Josephine Hull in a leading role. I don't think this is entirely a coincidence. Miss Hull is simply wonderful in both movies and it is a shame that she didn't do more work in films.
If you like movies that make you laugh, you shouldn't be without this one (or Harvey, either). Get them both and settle in for some real treats. And that's no trick.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 1, 2006
No matter how many times I see this, I laugh as if it were the first!

There is absolutely NOTHING that's a downside of this movie. The casting is inspired - Raymond Massey as the Boris Karloff lookalike, Jonathan, Peter Lorre as Dr. Einstein, and Cary Grant - just beyond perfect as Mortimer Brewster - the unseen Mr. Spinolzo, the "hot stiff in the rumbleseat."

I've always loved Cary Grant in a drama or comedy, but honestly, he is so freaking funny in this movie that no one can compare in any other vehicle.

Grant's conversation on the phone with the operator while he's trying to get the Happydale Sanitarium is priceless! (I often feel that same way when I'm on the phone with my HMO.) Meanwhile, Aunt Abby and Aunt Martha are trying to give some tainted elderberry wine to yet another unsuspecting old man they think is lonely and needs to be relieved of the burden of living.

When Grant gets off the phone, he's so frustrated he pours himself a glass of wine - elderberry wine, and Aunt Martha gives him an "uh uh UH!" and he drops the glass. But the potential border cum victim is about ready to drink his down, and Grant SCREAMS and chases him out of the house with, "Do you want to be poisoned? Do you want to be killed?" and trips over a chair.

Then there's the scene where he goes to the judge to get cousin Teddy (who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt) committed to Happydale. The judge is an old stiff himself, and he tells Mortimer, "Tell Aunt Abby and Aunt Martha I'll be over. I've been a little lonely," to which Mortimer shouts, 'No, no! Don't ever tell them you're lonely! Tell me, Judge, are you a drinking man?"

The judge says, "Certainly not!" but adds as a relieved Mortimer is leaving, "Of course, a little wine now and then...." Mortimer screams, "Not wine! No wine! Don't drink wine!" The judge then wonders, "Maybe I committed the wrong Brewster."

Then there's the inimitable Jack Carson as the cop on the beat who is playwrite on the sly. His expressions are second only to Grant, particularly when he reacts to Teddy.

Priscilla Lane is perfect as Mortimer's fiance, Elaine (a small part, but oh, she does it perfectly.)

As you can tell, I've seen this movie so many times I've inadvertently memorized whole sections of dialogue. Since I never, ever rewatch movies until I've forgotten them, there's no higher compliment I can pay to "Arsenic and Old Lace."

I just pray no one ever tries to remake this classic. There isn't an actor alive who could hope to compare to the original cast in this masterpiece.

This movie is perfect, and if you haven't seen it, you are in for the best time of your life. I'll dig a lock to that! :)
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2000
As a lover of comedies that feature eccentric characters, this film ranks high on my list as one of the best adaptations of a stage play to the screen. If you don't like madcap farce or black comedy, then you'd probably do well to pass this one up; but otherwise you'll enjoy this tale of a young man who, on the eve of of his wedding, discovers that his two eccentric old-maid aunts have been killing homeless men and burying them in their basement as an "act of charity." Josephine Hull and Jean Adair (reprising their Broadway roles) are hysterical, and Cary Grant is a lot of fun as bundle-of-nerves nephew Mortimer, the only sane Brewster. John Alexander also recreates the role he made famous on Broadway of Teddy, Mortimer's unbalanced brother who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt. Unfortunately, the Broadway play cast Boris Karloff as Mortimer's brother Jonathan, and seeing as how Jonathan is constantly compared to the Frankenstein monster, it would have helped had Karloff been cast in the film version as well; but instead the role went to Raymond Massey, who does well with it, but some of the humor of the "Frankenstein" comparisons may be lost on him. Peter Lorre is also excellent as Jonathan's sidekick - his role is sort of a sendup of the "mad-scientist-henchman" role that was prolific in 30's and 40's monster movies. And I for one love the scenes with Edward Everett Horton (some may remember him as the tongue-in-cheek narrator of "Fractured Fairy Tales" on the old Bullwinkle cartoon show), who plays the proprietor of Happydale Sanitarium - his straightfaced delivery will have you in stitches. If you're a fan of crazy, nerve-wringing farce, you'll love this film - only make sure you buy the black and white version, not the colorized one.
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