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Arsenic and Old Lace [1943] (1 disc)

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Director:Frank Capra
Writer:Julius J. Epstein
Philip G. Epstein
Composer:Max Steiner
Length:118 minutes
(1 hour 58 minutes)
MPAA Rating:UR
Suggested Event Use:Friday 13
Sorting Category:Dark Comedy
IMDB Rating:8.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating:81%
Amazon Rating:5.0/5 stars
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Classifications:
  • Dark Comedy
  • Family
  • Comedy
  • Suspense / Horror
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Synopsis: A writer of books on the futility of marriage risks his reputation when he decides to get married. Things get even more complicated when he learns on his wedding day that his beloved maiden aunts are habitual murderers.


Reaction: Macabre and bizarre, but there are some wonderfully quotable moments and a delightful descent into madness for Cary Grant.


Personal Rating: 9/10

Frank Capra => Director
Julius J. Epstein => Writer
Philip G. Epstein => Writer
Max Steiner => Composer
Joseph Kesselring => Play
Cary Grant => Mortimer Brewster
Charles Lane => Reporter
Chester Clute => Dr. Gilchrist
Edward Everett Horton => Mr. Witherspoon
Garry Owen => Taxi Cab Driver
Grant Mitchell => Reverend Harper
Hank Mann => Photographer at Marriage License Office (uncredited)
Jack Carson => O'Hara
James Gleason => Police Lt. Rooney
Jean Adair => Martha Brewster
Jean Wong => Young Woman in Line (uncredited)
John Alexander => Teddy Roosevelt' Brewster
Josephine Hull => Abby Brewster
Lee Phelps => Umpire (uncredited)
Leo White => Man in Phone Booth (uncredited)
Peter Lorre => Dr. Einstein
Priscilla Lane => Elaine Harper
Raymond Massey => Jonathan Brewster
Raymond Walburn => Drummer at baseball game (uncredited)
Spencer Charters => Marriage License Clerk (uncredited)
Vaughan Glaser => Judge Cullman
Vera Lewis => Undetermined Secondary Role (uncredited)

Random Trivia For This Title:

  • Some 20 years before filming this movie, actress Jean Adair had helped to nurse a very sick vaudeville performer named [?] Archie Leach back to health; by the time she was asked to reprise her Broadway "Arsenic and Old Lace" role as Aunt Martha for this film, Adair and Leach, now known as Cary Grant, were old friends.
  • On stage, Boris Karloff played the monstrous Jonathan Brewster, Raymond Massey's film character, who, in eerie-looking screen makeup, resembled Karloff, which was a running gag throughout the picture. Karloff eagerly wanted to do this film, but he was kept under contract by the Broadway play producers and was not allowed to do the picture, to his immense displeasure.
  • According to "Dear Boris" biographer [?] Cynthia Lindsay, Josephine Hull and Jean Adair went to their graves believing that Boris Karloff had been so saintly as to agree to let them go to Hollywood to make this film while he stayed on Broadway doing the play. Nothing could have been further from the truth: Karloff was very angry and disappointed that he was the only play cast member not allowed out of his contract to do the film.
  • [?] Amy Archer-Gilligan, Americas most prolific female serial killer, has been cited as the inspiration for the play, and subsequently the film. She was charged with the poisoning deaths of her two husbands and was allegedly responsible for the deaths of 66 other elderly "inmates" of her nursing home. Her weapon of choice? Arsenic.
  • Although this film was made in late 1941, it was not released until September 1944 because of a contractual obligation between Warner Bros. and the producers of the Broadway show, in which Warner Bros. agreed not to release the film until the end of the stage play's run. Frank Capra noted that while he was stationed in London in January 1943, he overheard American and British soldiers screaming "Charge!" in the manner of the "Teddy Roosevelt" character and deduced that they had seen the film. He then learned that [?] Jack L. Warner had released the picture to the armed forces that month, a year after it was completed, and almost two years before it was released to the general public.
  • The Production Code Administration asked filmmakers to tone down the "sex frustration" of the newlywed Elaine and Mortimer. While the eagerness of the newlyweds is apparent in the final cut of the film, the filmmakers complied with the PCA and minimized the couple's "frustration" in several scenes.
  • Frank Capra pushed his actors to the broadest comedy takes, a fact that did not sit well with Cary Grant. As a result, his (and Jack Carson's) performances were singled out by reviewers for going dangerously over the top, while Raymond Massey and the stage performers managed to look rather restrained by comparison. Grant hated working this way, although in his more generous moments he credited Capra with helping him to get the comic effect he was unable to do on his own (it may have been his subtle way of blaming the director).
  • In an early example of aggressive product placement, the Bell Company provided the film with their new models of the "French Telephone" (which had both a microphone and ear piece in the same unit) in order to achieve greater advertising.
  • At the time of production, Warner Bros. announced that the Brewster house was the largest set ever built at the studio. The house was complete, room by room, in every detail. In fact, several scenes were filmed in fully-furnished rooms that never appear in the film.
  • On December 12, 1941, with less than a week to go before filming planned to be completed, director Frank Capra enlisted in the U. S. Army Signal Corps as a Major, prompted as were numerous Hollywood directors, cast and crew, by the attack on Pearl Harbor five days earlier. He received an extension of his order to report for active duty in mid-January so he could finish editing the picture. He stayed to complete post production, and reported to Washington D.C. on February 11, 1942. This would be his last Hollywood feature film until It's a Wonderful Life (1946).
  • Frank Capra related to the role of Mortimer in the film because, like that character, he too had an older brother who abused him as a child and grew up to be a criminal.
  • Warner Bros. suggested that Humphrey Bogart could replace Boris Karloff on Broadway, paving the way for Karloff to appear in this film with minimal impact to the play's popularity. The Broadway producers, however, refused the suggestion and jealously guarded Karloff's commitment to the play.
  • The Broadway comedy opened at the Fulton Theatre on January 10, 1941 and ran for 1,444 performances, more than one per day (counting matinees), closing on June 17, 1944. Repeating their stage roles in the movie were "Brewster siblings" Josephine Hull, Jean Adair and John Alexander, all three getting time off from the New York play. Boris Karloff was denied permission to go by the play's producers, fearing that the absence of their main star would adversely affect the play's attendance.
  • The Production Code Administration strongly recommended that the filmmakers limit the deadly concoction used by the Brewster sisters to simply arsenic (as it already appeared in the title) when the sisters tell Mortimer their recipe. The PCA was concerned that unstable audience members may try to replicate the recipe. Their suggestion was ignored without apparent consequence.
  • Ronald Reagan and Jack Benny were offered the role of Mortimer Brewster, but turned it down. Bob Hope was offered the part and was eager to do it but Paramount Pictures refused to loan him out to Warner Bros. for the project. Director Capra also considered [?] Richard Travis for the role.
  • Cary Grant later said in interviews that his role would have been better accomplished by Allyn Joslyn, the Broadway play's lead, or even by James Stewart.
  • Frank Capra was forced to pay $25,000 apiece to the Broadway play's producers for their loaning Jean Adair and Josephine Hull to the film.
  • Frank Capra was drawn to this project due to its very frivolousness. Capra admitted that the films he had made over the previous seven years had all been serious endeavors with moralistic implications. He delighted in the film's escapism and pure, unpretentious entertainment value. Capra said that the film was "no great document to save the world, [and contained] no worries about whether John Doe should or should not jump; [it was] just good old fashioned theater." The director admitted that making the film was the first time he had really enjoyed himself since making It Happened One Night (1934).
  • Bob Hope was Frank Capra's first choice for the role of Mortimer Brewster. Hope was not available and Cary Grant was eventually cast in the role.
  • Frank Capra preferred Andy Devine for the role of the delusional Teddy "Theodore Roosevelt" Brewster. The role eventually went to John Alexander, who received rave critical reviews for his performance.
  • Boris Karloff did not abandon his commitment to the Broadway version of Arsenic and Old Lace in order to appear in this film. He did, however, graciously allow Warner Bros. to use his name and likeness, an issue that the studio had considered a potentially-devastating legal obstacle had he not done so.
  • In none of his closeups does Raymond Massey ever blink.
  • First film for actress Jean Wong, although Casablanca (1942) was released before this picture.
  • Mortimer's repeated phrase at the end of the film declaring the secret of his birth was originally "I'm not a Brewster - I'm a bastard!" However, the censors demanded that it be changed, resulting in the phrase "I'm the son of a sea cook!"