Arsenic and Old Lace is well-known as one of the most successful and enduring plays in the history of stage. Written by Joseph Kesselring and opening on Broadway in January of 1941, this was a dark comedy starring Mortimer Brewster who returns home while debating his plans for marriage and is forced to deal with his insane and homicidal family.
This wonderful family includes two spinster aunts, who have taken to murdering lonely old men with poison, a brother who believes he is Theodore Roosevelt and digs the Panama Canal in the basement and a murderous brother Jonathan Brewster played by Boris Karloff. In an effort to evade police capture, Jonathan has received plastic surgery from an alcoholic accomplice (Dr. Einstein) and the botched facial surgery is easily one of the most hilarious bits in the play when Jonathan realizes his new face makes him look exactly like Boris Karloff.
During its original run, the play was extremely well received and closed in June of 1944 after an impressive 1,444 performances in New York City. In 1944 this made Arsenic and Old Lace a top 5 all time Broadway play and even today in 2014 it remains in the top 60.
A movie version of the play was made by Frank Capra in 1941 starring Cary Grant as Mortimer Brewster. While produced in 1941, the film was not released until the New York play closed in 1944 and play managers prevent Karloff from taking part in the film for fear of lost ticket sales.
Throughout the years following the play’s initial run, Karloff would occasionally reprise his role on stage, radio and even in television. We wonder if Karloff, commonly type cast as a horror genre star might have seen the comedic Arsenic and Old Lace as a breath of fresh air.
Below we have linked a couple good videos on Arsenic and Old Lace: