Arsenic and Old Lace [1944]

Frank Capra made this film in 1941 before he went off to make films for America's war effort, but it wasn't released until 1944. Adapted from the hit play by Joseph Kesselring, this frantic black comedy shows Capra at his best as a master of mood and timing. Actresses Josephine Hull and Jean Adair reprise their Broadway performances as two gentle old ladies who poison men with elderberry wine to put them out of their misery. Cary Grant plays one nephew, a normal guy who just gets wind of their little hobby and tries to get them to stop, while Raymond Massey plays another, a villain just escaped from jail. Capra encourages the cast, especially Grant, to give a somewhat more outsized performance than one might expect. But made during the war years as it was, this overstated comic approach to killing was probably cathartic. --Tom Keogh

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