69 – Arsenic and Old Lace

Welcome to The Best Movies I’ve Never Seen! This is the part of the blog where I work my way through 100 films I’ve never seen that are generally considered to be great. You’re invited to watch along with me if you can find a copy or find it streaming. So grab some popcorn and let’s get started!

Arsenic and Old Lace


Directed by Frank Capra

Quick synopsis… Stellar performances highlight this delightfully witty adaptation of the hit Broadway play about two dotty spinsters (Josephine Hull and Jean Adair) with a peculiar avocation: helping lonely old gents by poisoning them and burying them in the cellar. But the jig is up when the ladies’ newlywed nephew, Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant), discovers his aunts’ “benevolent” deeds. Raymond Massey and Peter Lorre also star.

This movie is kinda crazy. Granted, I’ve only seen a handful of Frank Capra’s films, but they’ve all been feel-good movies. You know, It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, You Can’t Take it With You

This one begins as if it’s a cute romantic comedy and quickly takes a dark turn.

Cary Grant plays Mortimer Brewster, a famous bachelor who has written books on how the institution of marriage is a fraud. Prior to the events of the film, Brewster has fallen in love with Elaine Harper, marrying her at the start of the movie. As he prepares to run away with his new wife to Niagara Falls for their honeymoon, Brewster discovers that his sweet old aunts are serial killers. But they don’t believe they’re murdering their victims. They believe it’s a charity they provide… a kindness.

They’ve got a pretty good thing going. The older ladies have an extra room in their grand house and rent it out to older gentlemen who find themselves alone and lonely. Once the aunts get their victim in the house, they serve him a poisoned glass of wine. Then they have Mortimer’s brother, who believes himself to be Teddy Roosevelt, dig a grave in the basement, which he believes is an expansion of the Panama Canal.

This has gone on a dozen times.

But the death doesn’t stop there. Mortimer has another brother, Jonathan, who has been estranged for many years. He shows up with a plastic surgeon in tow, wearing a face that resembles Frankenstein’s monster. Jonathan is also looking to dispose of a dead body, seeing as how he’s a serial killer, too.

So Arsenic and Old Lace isn’t a romantic comedy… but it’s definitely a dark comedy. Cary Grant delivers a great line after his character has discovered all he has about his disturbed relatives: “Insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops.”

I won’t go into what else happens because there’s something of a twist in the end that I don’t want to spoil. Like I said, it’s kind of a bizarre movie, but it’s definitely good for more than a few laughs. Having now seen Arsenic and Old Lace, it currently ranks at 311 out of 2,267 on my personal Flickchart list.

Have you seen Arsenic and Old Lace? What did you think of this classic Capra film? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments!

4 thoughts on “69 – Arsenic and Old Lace

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