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Arsenic And Old Lace Criterion Blu-ray Review

“Arsenic And Old Lace” is a wild and dark screwball comedy. 

Based on the stage play of the same name and adapted for the screen by writers Julius J. and Philip Epstein, 1944’s “Arsenic And Old Lace” takes place on Halloween day in Brooklyn and revolves around drama critic/author Mortimer Brewster. Mortimer (who is a noted bachelor that literally wrote books about bachelor life) decides to get married to Elaine. As they prep for their honeymoon, Mortimer’s world is turned upside down when he stops by the house of his two aunts (Martha and Abby) and his brother Teddy who believes he is Teddy Roosevelt. He discovers that his darling, calm and sweet aunts are in fact serial killers who poison lonely old men to end their sorrow. The bombshell revelations don’t stop there as Mortimer’s creepy brother Jonathan comes home with a plastic surgeon. Jonathan, who has been on the run, now resembles Boris Karloff and his own dark secrets. How will this all pan out? Is Mortimer’s marriage doomed? Is Mortimer concerned about his own sanity now that he knows the secrets about his own family’s sanity? 

Directed by Frank Capra (who is best known for classics like “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”), “Arsenic And Old Lace” is the perfect movie for the fall and Halloween season. There’s falling leaves, a cemetery, dead bodies (although we never see them), a scary looking character with Jonathan and even some suspenseful moments thrown in. Capra isn’t traditionally known for dark comedies so it’s fun to see the director tackle a different genre. Yes, it’s very much a screwball comedy that has a relentlessly frantic pace, but it’s also a dark comedy about death and a dysfunctional family (to put it gently). The over-the-top situations that go from bad to worse and Mortimer’s hysterics might be a bit too much for some viewers, but fans of screwball comedy and black comedy will be delighted by this quirky oddball film that has stood the test of time.

Everyone is at the top of their game here cast wise. Cary Grant is the true scene stealer as Mortimer who is having a very bad day. Seeing his character transition from a newlywed to a man on the brink of madness is part of the charm of ‘Arsenic.’ Josephine Hull and Jean Adair play off each other so well as the two killer aunts. Raymond Massey is quite creepy as Jonathan while Peter Lorre surprisingly plays a more comedic role and not so much a creepy one as he often did. 


Presentation: 1.37:1 1080p. How does it look? The 4K digital transfer has a couple noticeable defects, but by and large this is a nice clean print of this B&W classic.

Audio Track: Uncompressed Mono. How does it sound? The dialogue heavy film sounded crisp to this reviewer.

* “Arsenic And Old Lace” trailer.
* A 1952 radio drama adaptation
* A booklet featuring an essay by critic David Cairns.
* New commentary by author Charles Dennis who wrote “There’s A Body In The Window Seat! The History Of Arsenic And Old Lace.”

October 16, 2022 - Posted by | Blu-Ray review | , , , , , ,

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