Classic Cinema: Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) – By Jason S. Lockard

Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year a time for watching monster movies and eating candy, but for me it’s not always horror movies at Halloween I like to break out my copy of one of the funniest Halloween movies ever. You want proof? It scored the #30 spot on AFI’s 100 Years 100 Laughs; it’s 1944’s Arsenic and Old Lace. In which our star of the month John Alexander small, but pivotal role.

Not Much is known of our star of the month John Alexander. He was born in Newport Kentucky on November 29, 1897. He made his stage debut at the age of 16 with Shakespearean company and by 1917 was on Broadway on The Merchant of Venice. He played many roles on the stage, but in 1934 he made his film debut in the Shirley Temple vehicle Baby Take a Bow which he was not credited.

John Alexander would go on to be in many films over the years including Mr. Skeffington [1944], A Tree Grows in Brooklyn [1945], The Horn blows at Midnight [1945], The Jolson Story [1946], Fancy Pants [1950], and Winchester ’73 [1950], but no doubt he is most remembered as the crazed Teddy Brewster, a man who thinks he is Theodore Roosevelt in our film for this month 1944’s Arsenic and Old Lace.

The film is based on Joseph Kesselring’s stage play and directed by the great Frank Capra. The film follows Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) who wrote several books against marriage, but he himself falls in love with a preacher’s daughter Elian Harper and they get married on Halloween day. Before they go on their honeymoon Mortimer visits his bizarre relatives. His aunts Abby and Martha and his brother Teddy who believes he is Theodore Roosevelt; complete with "CHARGE!" while running up the stairs.

Still all this is ok because he will soon be far away from all this. Than he finds a corpse hidden in a window seat. Mortimer believes Teddy has committed murder and wants to have him committed that is until he finds out that His aunts are responsible. His aunts end suffering of lonely old bachelors by serving them elderberry wine spiked with arsenic, strychnine and "just a pinch of cyanide". They call it one of their "charities." Than Mortimer’s brother Jonathan arrives home from prison and things really get strange.

John Alexander died in New York City on July 13th 1982. Though John only worked on film for a little less than 30 years he left some memorable performances generation will enjoy for years to come.

So this Halloween when your watching the creepy, scary and terrifying get a copy of Arsenic and old lace and have a laugh. You won’t regret it! So until next month this is Jason Lockard reminding you if you want to see a good movie, check out a classic!

Moral Rating: Talk of murder
Audience: Teens and Adults
Genre: Comedy
Length: 110 min.
Released: 1944
Our Rating: A