Arsenic and Old Lace starring a bevy of fine performers,was released three years after it was in the can.A remake of a Broadway play of the same name by J. Kesselring,it lifted three of the plays three principals John Alexander,(Teddy Brewster),Jean Adair(Martha Brewster) and Josephine Hull(Abby Brewster) and plunked them down amongst a stellar cast of Hollywood thesps such as Cary Grant(Mortimer Brewster),Priscilla Lane(Elaine Harper),Raymond Massey(Jonathan Brewster),Peter Lorre(Dr Einstein),Edward Everette Horton(Dr Witherspoon),Jack Carson(Officer O'Hara) and many other fine supporting players.The film makers also wanted Boris Karloff to reprise his Broadway role as Jonathan Brewster but he refused the offer(he had a monetary interest in the play).
The story involves writer Mortimer Brewster(Grant)who writes books on the pitfalls of marriage.It opens with him and his girlfriend Elaine(Lane)trying to get hitched!It is against his better judgment but Cupids' arrow is firmly planted and there's no escape for him.On the way to their honeymoon destination of Niagara Falls,the now married couple stop off at Elaine's home, which is also near Mortimers' aunts home.They both part to break the news to their relatives;Elaine to her father and Mortimer to his aunts Abby and Martha.
His aunts are elated at the news but Mortimer is dumbfounded upon finding a body in the window seat.His aunts are nonplussed as they calmly tell him they poisoned the former lodger plus 12 more that are now buried in the basement.
Going back and forth between total apoplexy and controlled confusion Mortimer tries to somehow get a handle on events as they unfold.
It seems Mortimer' brother Teddy(who thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt,complete with horn blowing and a charge up San Juan Hill!),has been the digger of the graves for all of the former lodgers of his aunts;each grave a lock for the Panama Canal and each person a yellow fever victim! During all this a not so patient taxi driver awaits the newly wedded couple's departure,the local constabulary drops in and out,Elaine is repeatedly shunted aside as Mortimers' mind wanders aimlessly from one crisis to another and through it all Mortimers aunts try to carry on with their lives as "normal".To top matters off completely,Mortimers' other brother Jonathan(Massey),a sadistic killer wanted around the world,accompanied by a Dr Einstein(Lorre),drop in with a body of their own!Jonathan decides his aunts home would be a perfect spot for the doctor to do another operation on his face and as a place to hide.However they also stumble onto the awful truth of what his aunts have been up to with their former boarders and have no intention of going anywhere despite Mortimer's objections.
Jonathan ties his hapless brother up and intends to add him to the body count right under the noses of the local police.But they finally cotton on to things and Jonathan is arrested after a bitter struggle.Mortimer through alot of paper signing and phone calls gets his brother Teddy and(unexpectedly)his aunts, committed to the Happydale Sanitarium.The film fades out with the couple in happily ever after land.
Arsenic and Old Lace starts out at a relatively even pace,but when Elaine and Mortimer arrive at their respective homes the film takes off and there is no looking back.As the movie and events unfold it is Grant who becomes the storm within the calm,with often hilarious results.He becomes the reluctant victim of events and information that he tries his best to comprehend,but never really gets a solid grip of until the end of the film.Grant does play his part well and as much as I think this era was the finest of his career,there are moments when he goes just a little over the top with his reactions.Also Capra well,being Capra,has a tendency to over tell a story and like many other of his films the details can bog the pace down somewhat;and this is no exception.
What saves this black comedic farce is the stellar supporting players.Josephine Hull as Aunt Abby with her tip toe trots to the door,Raymond Massey as menacing a maniacal killer as any you will ever see,John Alexander playing a part he was born to play as an ersatz Teddy Roosevelt,Lorre,doing what Lorre does best and veteran character actor Edward Horton,always a delight in just about everything he did.
About the DVD release itself,it is a bare horse;no extras at all.The print used here is a good one and quite clear and crisp.It is housed in a snap jacket.
In conclusion while this well known movie farce is good it is not perfect by any means.Along with Grants' moments of over the top joie de vivre,Capra's heavy handedness gets in the way again and even the stellar cast can't over come the film's paucity and less than judicious editing.However in the end it is the beautiful cast,their chemistry and superior acting chops that pull this film up by its' collective boot straps and lands it around the four star category for this reviewer.I recommend this film to all.