Sunday, April 14, 2013

"For a gallon of elderberry wine, I take one teaspoon full of arsenic, then add half a teaspoon full of strychnine, and then just a pinch of cyanide."




This post is inspired by blog buddy, Sandy, who recently renamed her blog Arsenic and Old Lace, thereby inadvertently enticing  me into buying the DVD of the movie of the same name. I had only seen Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) once, years ago, so I decided it was time to revisit it and I definitely wasn't disappointed. Even the Halloween themed illustrations in the opening credits are delightful. 



Directed by Frank Capra, the story takes place on Halloween, and begins with the nuptials between drama critic, Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant), and the girl he grew up next door to in Brooklyn, Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane). Things go horribly awry, however, after the  newlyweds make a quick stop home to inform relatives of their marriage before departing on a honeymoon to Niagara Falls. Mortimer stumbles upon a body in the window seat of his old family abode. He soon discovers that the two sweet spinster aunts who raised him, have developed the "very bad habit" of poisoning lonely old men with their homemade elderberry wine.





Aunt Abby (Josephine Hull) and Aunt Martha (Jean Adair), who believe they are doing nothing wrong, are aided in performing their little "charities" by Mortimer's delusional brother, Teddy (John Alexander), who thinks he is Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy buries the bodies in the cellar under the impression that he is disposing of yellow fever victims during the digging of the Panama Canal. Add to the mix the unexpected return of Mortimer's other brother, murderous, bad seed Jonathan (Raymond Massey), and his alcoholic accomplice, Dr. Einstein (Peter Lorre), who are on the run from the police, and you've got a kooky and charmingly macabre farce.




Most of the movie takes place in and around the Brewster's Brooklyn home. The exterior set of the aunts' house, adjacent cemetery, and the church where Elaine grew up with her minster father is stunning. In the background is an incredible painted backdrop of New York with realistic touches like the moving lights of traffic in the distance, smoke coming from chimneys, and even two-dimensional trams/cable cars rolling backwards and forwards.

Karloff [source] and Lugosi [source] playing the role of Jonathan Brewster on stage.






Another aspect of the film that I loved was a running gag about Jonathan Brewster looking like "Boris Karloff". It is explained that Dr. Einstein had performed surgery on Jonathan's face to create a new identity for him. Unfortunately, not only had the doctor been intoxicated at the time, but he had also subconsciously been inspired by a certain famous monster movie he had just seen. Boris Karloff actually played the role of Jonathan Brewster in the original Broadway stage version of Arsenic and Old Lace, written by Joseph Kesselring. As Karloff was the star attraction of the play, however, he was unable to be released to do the movie, leading to Raymond Massey taking on the film role instead. Interestingly, Bela Lugosi also played the role of Jonathan Brewster in later stage productions of Arsenic and Old Lace.




It was surprising and amusing to find that Arsenic and Old Lace makes several references to Australia, and to Melbourne (where I live) in particular. Always ones for quoting films and TV shows, my husband, son and I have taken to regularly making references to the "Melbourne method" (in our best Peter Lorre voices, of course), which according to the movie, is a particularly gruesome and slow form of murder.

Jonathan: Tonight, we are taking care of Mortimer. And just for him we'll have something special. I plan on using the Melbourne method.
Dr. Einstein: [cringing] No! Not the Melbourne method, please! Two hours!

As Oscar Wilde said, “I can resist everything except temptation.” Thank you, Sandy, for unintentionally luring me into buying this adorable movie!


34 comments:

  1. What a delicious tribute to both the movie and the your blogger friend. Now I must watch Arsenic and Old Lace...

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    1. Thank you so much, Magaly! :) I absolutely recommend 'Arsenic and Old Lace' if you can get a chance to see it. It's the very definition of delightfully dark!

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  2. That 'I can resist anything but temptation' is an Oscar Wilde line? In that case, I may have given fun Australian 80's actionsploitation film Day of the Panther too little credit with its writing! haha!

    As for Arsenic and Old Lace, I'll definitely have to see it sometime soon!

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    1. Hi Chris,

      Yeah, I think Oscar Wilde was rather preoccupied with temptation. Haha. There are a few Oscar Wilde temptation quotes, but that particular one is from 'Lady Windermere's Fan'.

      'Arsenic and Old Lace' is silly, but in the best possible way. ;)

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  3. Emma, I can't believe I've never seen this film! Of course I've heard of it but, but, it has Peter Lorre in it who I *adore*! I must see it as soon as I possibly can! haha! The opening credits and the sets look amazing.

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    1. Oh, I hope you get to see it soon, Siobhan! I'm sure you'll enjoy it, especially if you love Peter Lorre. He's fantastic in 'Arsenic and Old Lace', and such a scene stealer! :D

      I knew I was going to adore the movie as soon as I saw the cute illustrations in the opening credits, and I loved the sets. I can totally imagine myself living in the aunts' house, next door to that picturesque little cemetery! ❤

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  4. Well, since It's a Wonderful Life is one of my favourite Capra films, I know I'll love this one - especially since the house is next to a cemetery! :D

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    1. Hi Insomniac's Attic,

      I'm sure you'll enjoy it. There are a few laugh out loud moments and also some quite sinister parts. It's a really interesting mix. The houses and the cemetery are gorgeous! I read somewhere that one of the gravestones has the name "Archie Leach" on it (Cary Grant's real name), so it's a perfect excuse for me to re-watch the movie to try and spot it. ;)

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  5. Ah, I've seen this long, long ago. One of these old movies they regularly showed on TV, mostly the Saturday or Sunday afternoon program. As far as I remember, a delightful little comedy with a fabulous Cary Grant.

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    1. Hi Maynard,

      I originally saw it on TV, one rainy, Saturday afternoon when I was a teenager. It was a poorly colourized print and I hadn't remembered too much about it other than enjoying it at the time. I'm so glad I watched it again. It's got all the style and kooky charm of an old black and white, but with a dark edge.

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  6. I absolutely adore this movie,
    but haven't seen it in such a long time.

    You've rekindled my love for it, thank you : )

    Yvonne : My Haunted Attic

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    1. Hi My Haunted Attic,

      My pleasure! :) I hope you'll get a chance to become reacquainted with 'Arsenic and Old Lace' again very soon!

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  7. Just LOVE this movie! Thanks for such a great post reminding me of it. Cary Grant was absolutely brilliant!

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    1. Hi nitebyrd,

      My pleasure and thank you! :) I'm so glad I revisited it and I agree, Cary Grant was brilliant! There's one particular Cary Grant scene, where he chases a potential victim out of the house, that had my husband, son, and I crying with laughter.

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  8. Wow! What an interesting sounding movie! Maybe Net Flix will have it. Thanks for the review.

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    1. My pleasure, Nightwind! I hope you can get to see it. :)

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  9. I haven't seen it so I have definitely something to look forward to :)

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    1. Hope you get a chance to see it, linnea-maria! It's a lovely balance of sweet and sinister! :)

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  10. I have not see this movie but my curiosity has been peeked. I must check it out. Thanks for sending me to Sandy's blog. I am a follower now.

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    1. Hi Julie,

      I'm glad I got you curious! I love this film, so I hope you enjoy it if you get around to watching it! I'm happy that I helped you to discover Sandy's blog too! It's awesome!

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  11. Thank you for the mention, Emma! :D A funny thing happened a few weeks after updating the name of my blog.. I went thrifting (as one does) and found a copy of Arsenic and Old Lace in the first shop I visited! I think it must have been fate as I had been meaning to order myself a copy from Amazon! I don't generally check out the DVD seconds in 2nd hand shops but for some reason my eyes were immediately drawn to that one DVD! I'm sad to say I haven't even watched it yet but this post has made me want to stick it in the DVD player asap! I'm looking forward to seeing the opening credits, they look so wonderfully spooky! ♥

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    1. My pleasure, Sandy! Thank you for being my muse when it came to this post! ❤ I'm glad you've managed to get hold of the DVD and I really hope you enjoy the movie when you get to see it! :)

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  12. Can't believe I have not seen this movie! Now it's in the list of upcoming movies to see. I would love a post with your top 10 (or more) favorite movies!

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    1. Hi Morrigan,

      I hope you get a chance to see it. It's such an adorable old movie! Thanks for the "top 10 (or more) favorite movies" post suggestion. I might just do that. :)

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  13. Love these old movies, how the heck did I miss this one?! I've always liked Frank Capra's "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" and we're on our second DVD of "it's a Wonderful Life" , next stop is Amazon.com I think. Thanks Emma!

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    1. Hi Mark,

      You know, I just assumed that this was one of those old movies that everyone had probably seen, so I'm happy to be spreading the word to those who've missed out on this little gem! :) I'm sure you'd enjoy it, particularly with the Halloween theme.

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  14. My School put on this play when I was back in Middle Grade... Cool post Lady Emma...
    I will be making postings to promote "May Monster Madness"... ( I do Not know how to post "Link"... So I refer them to you and Lady Annie, or "wicKED"...) These "promo-spots" will be a good use for the "I Want You" pics that we have ...lol
    Have a great evening dear Lady Emma ... your "fiend" and faithful Follower ... the Doctor

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    1. Hi Dr. Theda,

      It's cool that your school put on the play! Did you perform in it?

      Thank you so much for promoting May Monster Madness. It is much appreciated! :)

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    2. No ..I had a broken leg at the time ..( Cast up to hip for 4 months ...car accident) I gave my word that I would post Promotions at the "Crypt"... an Amazing 780+ views today and well over 600 views yesterday....This is Great !!!

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  15. That looks like a really nice movie ^^ Definitely up my alley. I'll see if I can find it somewhere around here :3

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    1. Hi Bazinga,

      Yes, it's a gorgeous old movie! I hope you're able to track it down. :)

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  16. I've never been one for B&W movies except for Frankenstein and Dracula. I also enjoy Sandy's blog. :)

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    1. Hi Jenny,

      This is a bit different to your usual old movie. It's definitely a very black comedy. :) Yes, Sandy's blog is awesome!

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  17. Christopher Walken is my guardian angel/demon. Good Post.

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