Frank’s Capra’s Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) is one of those movies that never gets old. I dissolve into uncontrollable laughter each time I watch it, and it actually gets funnier the more I see it. While I don’t have the film memorized, I can quote much of it. And it has one of the best lines ever uttered on film.
Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) is a drama critic who has just married his neighbor, Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane) on Halloween. The two are all set for their honeymoon, but Mortimer wants to pay a visit to his kindly old aunts, who raised him. And they’re absolutely thrilled that he’s no longer a bachelor. Mortimer also has a brother named Teddy, who believes he’s Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy is harmless, although he often recreates Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill by running up the stairs and slamming the door, yelling “CHARGE!” at the top of his lungs. It’s a madness that everyone is used to.
But this is not a usual visit for Mortimer, as he discovers to his utter shock and horror. He finds a dead body in the window seat – and there are 12 more down in the cellar. Immediately he thinks Teddy is the one responsible and wants to have him committed to a sanitarium. But his aunts explain that Teddy didn’t kill anyone. They did.
Are these sweet little spinsters really capable of murder?
They are, but they don’t think they’ve done anything wrong. You see, their victims were lonely old men with nothing to live for. They poisoned them with arsenic and a little bit of cyanide, and gave all of them decent, Christian burials. Teddy buries the bodies in the cellar, believing them to be victims of yellow fever from the Panama Canal.
That’s more than enough madness for anyone to deal with, but Mortimer has a new bride. And he can’t confide in her at all. Whenever Elaine shows up at the house, he barks at her and throws her out. He’s completely at his wits end. Mortimer tries to get Teddy committed to the Happydale Sanitarium, in order to save his aunts from punishment. But he also has to deal with the sudden appearance of his creepy brother Jonathan (Raymond Massey), who resembles Boris Karloff in Frankenstein. And what has Jonathan brought with him? A dead body of his own!
Mortimer is trying not to go insane himself, but that may be impossible, as he explains to Elaine.
What a line! Distinct, memorable, and hilarious. This might just be the most famous line in Arsenic and Old Lace. Without context it’s still perfectly quotable.
To get the full effect, I’ve included the film clip. Cary Grant’s look of weary resignation as he turns toward Mortimer’s house makes the scene and the quote even better.
I wrote this post for Emily’s Second Annual Classic Quotes Blogathon. Click on the banner to read more iconic lines from the movies!