Review: Arsenic And Old Lace (1944)


I wouldn’t be surprised if my aunts were killers, I really wouldn’t be!

Screenplay By: Julius J. Epstein & Philip G. Epstein
Directed By: Frank Capra

Death can be funny, Arsenic And Old Lace is further proof of that. There has always been a place for macabre humor in cinema and while Arsenic And Old Lace is macabre it is is also a bit different because of the style Capra employs. The premise employed in the story is dark, but Capra goes for more sight gags and watch things get crazy humor as opposed to truly focusing on the macabre elements. I would have preferred more focus on the macabre, but I can’t fault Capra for going with a lighter tone because it did end up being funny.

Cary Grant is a superb actor, but I question what he was going for in Arsenic And Old Lace. If there was one element that didn’t work for me that would be Grant, at times. There were moments and whole scenes where he hammed it up so much that it was beyond what I was willing to take. Luckily he didn’t always do this, and there were more times when he was playing dumbfounded rather than hamming it up in an out of control fashion. The rest of the cast played their parts well, although none stood out, but it was an ensemble piece for the most part so they weren’t supposed to stand out. Wait, I lied, Peter Lorre was really good, but then again it’s Peter Lorre so I kind of expect that.

The idea of an insane brother who thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt, aunts who are killers and a long lost brother who is a killer, looks like Boris Karloff and travels with a small German man pretending to be a doctor is funny in a chaotic sort of way. The movie moves at a brisk pace and keeps the jokes coming one after another. I laughed a lot, and as simplistic as it may seem that was enough to keep me invested in the film and the machinations of the characters were enough to keep me interested in the rather thin plot.

There are plenty of better movies out there, but Arsenic And Old Lace is a funny movie. That’s the only level it works on, so obviously if you don’t find it funny then it isn’t a movie you will like. I did find it funny and every once in a while a lighter take on the macabre is good for a change.




2 responses to “Review: Arsenic And Old Lace (1944)

  1. I love this film. It was dictated to at at FS back in October I think. It really took me by surprise because comedy is the genre I tend to like the least. Cary Grant is tremendous in this film I think. The one weak link is actually something you seemed to enjoy quite a bit: the insane brother. In my opinion the notion of it was perhaps better than the execution, even though I liked it okay.

  2. I still maintain that this is Cary Grant going a shade too overboard with his manic shtick. It’s a good film, but Grant’s performance does hold the film back.

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