"And then just a pinch of cyanide."
Description: The makings of a recipe for a deadly cocktail used by Martha Brewster (Jean Adair) in the film Arsenic and Old Lace (1944).
Martha Brewster, and her sister, Abby (Josephine Hull) ) live in Brooklyn in a nice old home next door to Reverend Harper. Called "two of the dearest, sweetest, kindest, old ladies that ever walked the earth," by police Sgt. Brophy (Edward McNamara), it comes as quite a surprise that these wonderful women are acutally mass murderers.
Like a spider weaves a web to capture its prey, the two women use a "Room for Rent" sign to lure lonely old men to their home. Their rationale for the murders is simple (at least to Martha and Abby). They believe by killing these men, they are relieving them of a lonely life, and, as such, they consider their actions charitable. The ladies got the idea of killing old men, when one of their lodgers died in their home. He looked so peaceful, and that inspired them to kill another 11 men and then bury them in the cellar. Their method: Poison wine.
“For a gallon of elderberry wine, I take one teaspoonful of arsenic, then I add a half a teaspoon of strychnine, and then just a pinch of cyanide.”
Enter Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant), their nephew and newpaper critic. Recently married to Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane), the Reverend's daughter, Mortimer drops by his aunts to give them the good news only to find a dead body in the parlor window seat.
Thinking the man was killed by his Uncle Teddy (John Alexander), a loony relative who lives with his aunts (and who believes he is Teddy Roosevelt... "CHAAARRRGE!:), Mortimer arranges to have Teddy placed in Happy Dale Sanitarium. But when his aunts act casually at seeing the dead body, Mortimer learns it is, indeed, Martha and Abby who are the culprits. Mortimer catches his aunts at it again when another old man visits the house, but Mortimer screams and chases the man away.
|Mortimer:||Look, you can't do things like that! Now, I don't know how I can explain this to you. But, it's not only against the law, its wrong!|
|mortimer||"It's not a nice thing to do. People wouldn't understand. He wouldn't understand. What I mean is... Well... This is developing into a very bad habit!"|
Into all of this mess, comes Mortimer's older brother Jonathan Brewster (Raymond Massey) who escapes an Indiana asylum and seeks shelter in his childhood home along with his weird partner, a peculiar little man named Dr. Einstein (Peter Lorre), a drunken, discredited plastic surgeon who accidentally makes Jonathan's face resemble Boris Karloff. They come bearing a dead body of their own (Mr. Spenalzo).
While Mortimer tries to sort out the whole mess, Jonathan learns that his sisters, Martha and Abby have killed as many people as he has over his lifetime and becomes jealous of the fact.
In the end, the police, arrest Jonathan who is about to kill Mortimer, Martha and Abby accompany Teddy to the Sanitarium and Mortimer learns he is adopted so his fear of insanity running in his family ("It practically gallops!") is put to rest.
Earlier in the film, Mortimer tells his wife, "You wouldn't want to have children with three heads, would you? I mean, you wouldn't want to set up housekeeping in a padded cell. Oh, it would be bad. "
Note: In the spirit of poisoning men, the film Sherlock Holmes (1970) and the comment of British sleuth Sherlock Holmes (Roberts Stephens) seems appropriate: “Actually, I don’t dislike women, I merely distrust them. The twinkle in the eye and the arsenic in the soup.”