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Arsenic and Old Lace

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Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) starring Cary Grant, Raymond Massey, Peter Lorre
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Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) starring Cary Grant, Raymond Massey, Peter Lorre

Buy from Amazon Cary Grant and a stellar cast romp through Arsenic and Old Lace, breezily directed by Frank Capra. Frazzled drama critic Mortimer Brewster (Grant) has:

  • Two aunts (Josephine Hull and Jean Adair). They ply lonely geezers with poisoned libations
  • One sociopathic brother (Raymong Massey) who looks like Boris Karloff. Who, in turn, has one mad doctor (Peter Lorre) as his assistant.
  • One insane brother (John Alexander) who thinks he’s Teddy Rooselvelt,. Charge!
  • One impatient new bride (Priscilla Lane)

and only one night to make it turn out all right. In this circus’ centre ring is Cary Grant, the only sane person in this screwball comedy. And hilariously funny!

“I’m the son of a sea cook!”


Raymond Massey and Peter Lorre in Arsenic and Old Lace
Raymond Massey and Peter Lorre in Arsenic and Old Lace
  • Cary Grant (Bringing Up Baby) … Mortimer Brewster. The play critic, with a long record of opposing marriage on general principles. Until he falls in love with & marries Elaine. Back home, one insane thing follows another in this hilarious comedy.
  • Priscilla Lane (Cowboy from Brooklyn) … Elaine Harper.
  • Raymond Massey (Abe Lincoln in Illinois) … Jonathan Brewster. Mortimer’s literally insane brother. A homicidal maniac. “He wouldn’t have gotten pneumonia if I hadn’t shot him!”
  • Jack Carson (King of the Roaring Twenties) … O’Hara. The local beat cop. Who, coincidentally, has written a play! Mortimer, would you mind taking a look …
  • Edward Everett Horton (Holiday) … Mr. Witherspoon. The man from Happy Dale sanitarium. He’s come to take Teddy away. And, he’s written a play! “Only two?”
  • Peter Lorre (The Comedy of Terrors) … Dr. Einstein. Jonathon’s unwilling assistant, with a drinking problem …
  • James Gleason (Here Comes Mr. Jordan) … Police Lt. Rooney
  • Josephine Hull (Harvey) … Abby Brewster. Jonathon’s sweet, loving sister. Who, with Martha, has been murderling lonely old people!
  • Jean AdairMartha Brewster. The other murdering, sweet, aunt.
  • John Alexander‘Teddy Roosevelt’ Brewster. The harmless, insane, brother who thinks he’s President Teddy Roosevelt. Charge!
  • Grant Mitchell … Reverend Harper
  • Edward McNamara … Brophy
  • Garry Owen … Taxi Cab Driver. “Oh, mortimer”
  • John Ridgely … Saunders
  • Vaughan Glaser … Judge Cullman
  • Chester Clute … Dr. Gilchrist
  • Charles Lane … Reporter
  • Edward McWade … Gibbs

Editorial review of Arsenic and Old Lace courtesy of

Cary Grant as Mortimer Brewster

Frank Capra made this film in 1941 before he went off to make films for America’s war effort, but it wasn’t released until 1944. Adapted from the hit play by Joseph Kesselring, this frantic black comedy shows Capra at his best as a master of mood and timing. Actresses Josephine Hull and Jean Adair reprise their Broadway performances as two gentle old ladies who poison men with elderberry wine to put them out of their misery. Cary Grant plays one nephew, a normal guy who just gets wind of their little hobby and tries to get them to stop, while Raymond Massey plays another, a villain just escaped from jail. Capra encourages the cast, especially Grant, to give a somewhat more outsized performance than one might expect. But made during the war years as it was, this overstated comic approach to killing was probably cathartic. –Tom Keogh

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