Summer of Forgotten Horror – Week 11: Arsenic and Old Lace (1962)
Cast: Boris Karloff as Johnathan Brewster
Tony Randall as Mortimer Brewster
Tom Bosley as Teddy Brewster
Dorothy Stickney as Abby Brewster
Mildred Natwick as Martha Brewster
Based on the stage play by Joseph Kesselring
Screenplay by Robert Hartung
Directed by George Schaefer
Plot: The Brewster sisters are two kindly old ladies who invite everyone into their home for a cup of tea and conversation. However, for the lonely traveler, they’ll break out the elderberry wine. But don’t worry, they’ll make sure you get a Christian funeral in the Panama Canal in their basement.
Personal Thoughts: Everyone should know the classic stage play tale of the two old women who kill travelers with their special elderberry wine laced with arsenic. The 1944 film starring Cary Grant is so much fun to watch but I’ve always wanted to see Boris Karloff recreate his stage role, something he was denied of doing in the 40s. Several years ago, I became aware of a 1962 Hallmark Hall of Fame television special where Karloff recreates his role of Johnathan Brewster. Having finally seen it, I can say it was quite enjoyable. It’s great to see Karloff having fun with the role and Tony Randall turns in a great performance as well. Tom Bosley is the crazy Teddy Roosevelt wannabe charging up the stairs and does a fine job as well. With the original Hallmark commercials intact, this made for a very fun 90 minutes. It was apparently done live, so it comes off a little stagey but considering it’s based on a stage play, it works incredibly well.
- There have been countless versions of this over the years. The 1944 theatrical film version with Cary Grant is the most well-known and while Raymond Massey did well in the role of Johnathan Brewster, Karloff would have been better. However, the movie was actually filmed in 1941 while Karloff was still doing the original stage play and was unable to do both.
- This TV version was made during Karloff’s run as host and sometimes star of Thriller.
- Never released commercially, this version of Arsenic and Old Lace is available on DVD through a third-party seller on Amazon. It appears to be a VHS dub and it’s definitely not a remastered version but considering the source material and how rare it is, the flaws are easy to overlook. Highly recommend Karloff fans add this to their collection.