Favorite things about… Arsenic and Old Lace

The favorite film:
Arsenic and Old Lace, a 1944 black comedy directed by Frank Capra

(Image via Happy Otter)

(Image via Happy Otter)

The synopsis:
Mortimer Brewster is a soon-to-be-married drama critic. He’s “sneered at every love scene in every play.” His reputation is one of a permanent bachelor, and he’s even published a book called “Marriage, A Fraud and a Failure.” But he’s about to have bigger problems than the public finding out he’s no longer a bachelor! His aunts, Abby and Martha, have a few skeletons hiding in the cellar of the old Brewster home — literally.

The cast:

  • Cary Grant as Mortimer Brewster
  • Priscilla Lane as Elaine Harper, Mortimer’s fiance
  • Josephine Hull and Jean Adair as Abby and Martha Brewster
  • Raymond Massey as Jonathan Brewster
  • John Alexander as “Teddy Roosevelt” Brewster
  • Jack Carson as Officer O’Hara
  • Edward Everett Horton as Mr. Witherspoon
  • Peter Lorre as Dr. Einstein

Fun facts (from TCM and the AFI catalog):

  • This film was made in 1941, but not released until 1944. Warner Bros. agreed not to release the film until the end of the play’s run on Broadway.
  • Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, and John Alexander appeared in the same roles in both play and film.
  • Frank Capra originally wanted Bob Hope for the role of Mortimer Brewster.
  • Cary Grant, borrowed from Columbia, was paid $160,000 for the film. He gave the majority of his salary to the war effort, dividing it between the British War Relief Association of Southern California, the American Red Cross, and the USO.
  • This was one of Grant’s least-favorite of his own films, because he thought he over-acted. Ironically, his over-acting is part of what makes the film so hilarious, contributing to its beloved status with today’s classic movie fans!
  • Jack Warner released this film to the armed forces a year prior to its theatrical release. Director Frank Capra discovered this when, while in London in 1943, he heard soldiers yelling “Charge!,” just as “Teddy Roosevelt” Brewster does in the film.

Favorite things/quotes:

  • “This is a Halloween tale of Brooklyn, where anything can happen – and it usually does.”
  • “Two by two, they come and go, hip-hip hi-yay!”
  • “He’s so happy being Teddy Roosevelt!”
  • Martha and Abby sneakily watching (and giggling at) Elaine and Mortimer from behind the curtain
  • “When the curtain goes up, the first thing you see is a dead body.” + Mortimer’s reaction when he discovers the dead body in the window seat!
(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

  • “Teddy’s got to go to Happydale now, at once!”
  • “But there’s a body in the window seat!”
    “Yes, dear! We know.”
  • Martha and Abby’s nonchalant attitude when Mortimer questions them about the body
  • Martha and Abby say that they don’t like scary movies… just after admitting to Mortimer that they’ve been poisoning people!
  • “Even the cat’s in on it!”
  • Mortimer trying to force Elaine out of the house, and freaking out when she sits on the window seat
  • “Another Roosevelt… oh, dear, dear…”
  • Mr. Hoskins’ hat!
  • Abby and Martha passing off Mortimer’s crazed reaction to their crimes as simple post-wedding jitters
  • Creepy Jonathan’s arrival, with the also-creepy Dr. Einstein in tow
  • “That last face, I saw that picture too, just before I operated!” – Dr. Einstein’s explanation for why Jonathan looks like Boris Karloff
  • “This time I want the face of an absolute non-entity.”
  • “I may be committing the wrong Brewster!”
  • “No, Teddy, must keep it a secret.”
    “A state secret?”
  • Elaine’s encounter with Jonathan and Dr. Einstein
  • “Dr. Einstein?”
    “A surgeon of great distinction… and something of a magician!”
(Image via Arsenic and Old Lace Images on Blogspot)

(Image via Arsenic and Old Lace Images on Blogspot)

  • “No visitors! It’s going to be a private funeral.”
  • “Where’d you get that face? Hollywood?”
  • “We were married today. We were going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Your brother tries to strangle me. A taxi is waiting, and now you want to sleep on a window seat.”
  • “That man’s an impostor, and if he came here to be buried in our cellar he’s mistaken!”
  • “Murdered?! Certainly not. It’s one of our charities.”
  • “You got twelve, they got twelve. The old ladies is just as good as you are!”
  • “Insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops!”
  • O’Hara telling the story of his play rather than helping Mortimer
  • Jonathan creeping down the stairs while O’Hara is telling the story
  • “What is the meaning of this commotion?”
  • “Oh, dear! And Happydale is full of staircases.”
  • The random, last-minute mistaken parentage plot twist
  • “I’m not a cab driver, I’m a coffee pot!”
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