Adam’s Film Friday – A Review of Arsenic and Old Lace

So sorry for the late posting on this.  My computer crashed yesterday!!!

After last week’s underwhelming Scoop, I was in the mood for a good laugh and decided to watch a comedy. This week’s movie Arsenic and Old Lace provided that laugh and so much more. Starring Cary Grant, Josephine Hull, and Jean Adair and directed by the legendary Frank Capra, this movie provided for a good afternoon of laughter.

The story starts off with Montgomery Brewster (Cary Grant), a famous author, theater critic, and bachelor who has taken a wife in Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane). She is the daughter of a Reverend who lives across the graveyard from Montgomery’s aunt Abby (Josephine Hull) and Martha Brewster (Jean Adair). These two ladies are known as the sweetest women in the neighborhood who would never hurt a fly. When Montgomery comes home to tell his aunts the great news about his marriage, he discovers a dark but hysterical secret about his two aunts. They take in potential boarders, who are all older gentlemen, and poison them with Arsenic laced wine. Adding to the fray is Montgomery’s brother Teddy Brewster (John Alexander), who thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt. He helps his aunts dispose of the bodies, though he thinks he’s digging the Panama Canal and getting rid of people who have died from Yellow Fever. Throw into the mix another brother Jonathan Brewster (Raymond Massey) and his sidekick Dr. Einstein (Peter Lorre) who are hiding a secret of their own, and what you have is one night that you will never forget.

This movie was hysterical. Having only seen the play done at a high school six years ago, I had forgotten all of the minor details from the movie, including how unique all the characters were. From the two aunts who think they’re doing a service by killing old lonely men, to Montgomery Brewster trying to hold everything together, to Teddy Roosevelt and his many missions as “president”, I was in a constant state of laughter while watching the movie. The whole movie was perfectly cast. They had incredible comic timing and really made the story, as outrageous as it is, come to life and almost seem plausible.

Cary Grant was perfect as Montgomery Brewster, the nephew who just wants to tell his elderly aunts about his marriage, but ends up thinking he’s crazy like the rest of the family. I was reading some of the trivia about the movie on IMDB and it was really interesting, because Cary Grant hated his performance in this movie, saying it was too over the top. I think the element of being too over top worked perfectly for the movie because the entire premise of the movie is very over the top. The performance worked perfectly given the material. Arsenic and Old Lace has me anxious to see Cary Grant in more comedies.

Josephine Hull and Jean Adler, who played the aunts Abby and Martha, also gave strong performances. They were the dynamic duo of the movie, always making the audience laugh and making it almost endearing that they had just killed a bunch of old men. The best performance of the movie by far, however, was John Alexander who played Teddy Brewster. He was so funny with his performance of a man who truly believed he was Teddy Roosevelt that I began to think the actor was playing a comic version of Teddy Roosevelt.

The whole ensemble performed brilliantly in this side-splitting comedic tour de force. It will make you laugh until you can’t breathe. As always I leave you with a question. What is the biggest grievance about your family? What is their most embarrassing trait? After viewing Arsenic and Old Lace, you grievance will seem so miniscule that you will forget all about it. Until next time, happy viewing!

5 out of 5 Stars