Review: “Arsenic and Old Lace” (1944) is still a fun fall film

Old movies don’t always get the credit they deserve, and with October coming up, I think it’s worth reviewing my favorite Halloween movie, the 1944 film version of “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

It’s adapted from Joseph Kesselring’s play of the same name, and was filmed at the same time as the plays’ first year running. However, it had to wait three and a half years until the play came off Broadway to be released.

It is honestly such a fun and quirky movie; I remember watching it with my mom when I was younger, and it is just the thing to get me in the spooky spirit. I really recommend it for people who don’t enjoy horror and gore, but still want a good Halloween flick.

The cast features Cary Grant, Raymond Massey, Peter Lorre, and Priscilla Lane, among others. Not necessarily who most people would think of now when asked about their favorite actors, but you’ll have to take a chance for me on this one.

The film’s story revolves around the Brewster family, when Mortimer (Grant), a writer whose favorite subject is on the
outdated premise of marriage, stops in to give a quick goodbye to his family in Brooklyn before eloping with his neighbor (Lane), the minister’s daughter.

He’s greeted by his brother, Teddy (John Alexander), who believes himself to be Theodore Roosevelt, and his sweet, elderly aunts, Martha (Jean Adair) and Abby (Josephine Hull).

Things go a little unhinged when he finds his aunts, who are loved by the community for being so generous and loving, might just have a few skeletons in their closet. Everything goes from unhinged to chaos when Mortimers sadistic brother, Johnathan (Massey) happens to drop by as well.

The plot is a bit erratic, yes, but so are the characters, and that’s the best part! I really feel every cast member does such a good job displaying their characters like quirks.

Whether it’s a boisterous re-enactment of Roosevelt or the little tittering’s of everyone’s favorite slightly-overbearing but incredibly good-natured aunt, the cast absolutely nails it.

Each character is incredibly unique to themselves, even the background characters are fully formed people with their own personal idiosyncrasies. On top of that, each character fits so perfectly with the rest. It feels very natural for every character to be there, and I think that’s really special.

The setting is impeccable too. The Brewster home is the quintessential old lady’s house that we all think of, down to the lace doiliesbeneath the dusty china that’s only for looking at and the oven full of tasty treats.

And, of course, we can’t forget the literal graveyard outside. It is Halloween, after all.

It may not be the most explosion-packed thriller of the century, but it’s genuinely cute and goofy and a really great movie to spend the time on.

It is in black and white, but it never feels boring, I promise. The characters are more than colorful enough to make up for it.

I know some old movies can be tough to get through, especially if you’re not a fan of them. This one, however, is so purely fun and charming, it won’t be any trouble. It’s not a film that takes itself too seriously, and I think that’s what I love so much about it.

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