Arsenic and Old Lace

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Arsenic and Old Lace is a 1944 film about a drama critic who must cope with his bizarre extended family on his wedding day, including his two spinster aunts who have an unusual habit of poisoning lonely old men.

Directed by Frank Capra. Written by Joseph Kesselring, Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein.

Mortimer Brewster[edit]

  • Insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops.
  • When I come back, I expect to find you gone. Wait for me!
  • [to elderly guest] You... Get out of here! D'ya wanna be poisoned? D'ya wanna be murdered? D'ya wanna be killed?
  • [to Dr. Einstein] Stop underplaying, I can't hear you!
  • [to his aunts] This is developing into a very bad habit! I don't know if I can explain it to you. It's not only against the law, it's wrong!
  • Even the cat's in on it!
  • [on telephone] Hello... Operator? Can you hear my voice? You can? Are you sure? [Hangs up] Well, then I must be here.
  • [to Jonathan] Where did you get that face? Hollywood?
  • [explaining to Elaine why they shouldn't be married] 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.
  • [singing] There is a Happy Dale, far, far away...
  • [on the telephone] Yes, operator, I'd like the Happy Dale Sanatorium, Happy Dale, New York. Come on, operator, what's taking so long? They're just across the river. I could swim it faster! No, I don't want the Happy Dale Laundry. I want the Happy Dale Sanatorium. Sanatorium, sanatorium, sanatorium. Yes, yes, like a broken record. Hello — what? They're busy? Busy? Look, they're busy and you're dizzy. No, I am not drunk, madam, but you've given me an idea. [throws down the phone in disgust]
  • All I did was cross the bridge and I was in Brooklyn. Amazing.
  • [trying to make Jonathan leave] Now, here's ten dollars. Why don't you be a good sport and go out and haunt yourself a hotel?
  • [Meeting with Dr. Gilchrist in the cemetery] Pull up a tombstone!
  • Certainly there are thirteen bodies in the cellar and there are hundreds more in the attic!
  • [watching the fighting, lighting up a cigarette] I got the papers signed — papers are all signed, what do I care? Go ahead — fight, fight. [watching the police trying to bring down Jonathan with a shoe] Oh, don't do that. It never works. [Jonathan collapses] What do you know? it worked!
  • [last lines] No, no. I'm not a Brewster. I'm the son of a sea-cook! Ha! Ha!

Elaine Harper[edit]

  • We were married today. We were going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Your brother tries to kill me. A taxi is waiting and now you want to sleep on a window seat. You can take the honeymoon, your wedding ring, your taxi, your window seat, and put 'em in a barrel and push 'em all over Niagara Falls!

Jonathan Brewster[edit]

  • We better not leave the car parked in the street; it might be against the law.
  • [repeated line] Go to bed, Aunt Abby!
  • [to Mortimer] If you tell O'Hara what's in the window seat, I'll tell him what's in the cellar. There's an elderly gentleman down there who seems to be very dead.
  • This time, I want the face of an absolute non-entity!
  • The home of my youth... As a child, I wanted to escape it. Now, I want to escape back into it.
  • Who do I look like, Boris Karloff?


  • (when told that his "term of office" is over) Is this March the 4th? (Mortimer: Practically.)
  • I shall be in my office vetoing some bills.


Dr. Einstein: At least people in plays act like they've got sense.
Mortimer: Oh, you think so? Did you ever see anybody in a play act like they got any intelligence?
Dr. Einstein: [agonizing] How can anybody be so stupid!

Elaine: But Mortimer, you're going to love me for my mind, too.
Mortimer: One thing at a time!

Mortimer: Yeah, yeah, I know that bromide. Something borrowed, something blue - old, new! Rice and old shoes, carry you over the threshold, Niagara Falls — all the silly tripe I've made fun of for years. Is this what I've come to? I can't go through with it. I won't marry you and that's that!
Elaine: [adoring] Yes, Mortimer.
Mortimer: What do you mean, "Yes, Mortimer"? Aren't you insulted? Aren't you going to cry? Aren't you going to make a scene?
Elaine: [adoring] No, Mortimer.
Mortimer: And don't "No, Mortimer" me either! Don't... Don't you see, marriage is a superstition, it... It's old-fashioned, it's... I... Ohhhh...
[He kisses her and hauls her into the marriage license office]

Teddy Brewster: I must be catching cold.
Abby Brewster: No, dear, it was Reverend Harper who sneezed.

Rev. Harper: Have you ever tried to persuade him that he wasn't Teddy Roosevelt?
Abby: Oh, no.
Martha Brewster: Oh, he's so happy being Teddy Roosevelt.
Abby: Oh... Do you remember, Martha, once, a long time ago, we thought if he'd be George Washington, it would be a change for him, and we suggested it.
Martha: And do you know what happened? He just stayed under his bed for days and wouldn't be anybody.

[Discussing the body count]
Dr. Einstein: You got twelve, they got twelve.
Jonathan Brewster: I've got thirteen!
Dr. Einstein: No, Johnny, twelve — don't brag.
Jonathan: Thirteen! There's Mr. Spinalzo and the first one in London, two in Johannesburg, one in Sydney, one in Melbourne, two in San Francisco, one in Phoenix, Arizona...
Dr. Einstein: Phoenix?
Jonathan: The filling station...
Dr. Einstein: Filling station? Oh!
[Dr. Einstein draws a finger across his throat]
Dr. Einstein: Yes.
Jonathan: Then three in Chicago and one in South Bend.
Dr. Einstein: You cannot count the one in South Bend. He died of pneumonia!
Jonathan: He wouldn't have died of pneumonia if I hadn't shot him!
Dr. Einstein: No, no, Johnny. You cannot count him. You got twelve, they got twelve. The old ladies is just as good as you are!

Mortimer: The name Brewster is code for Roosevelt.
Teddy: Code for Roosevelt?
Mortimer: Yes. Don't you see? Take the name Brewster, take away the B, and what have you got?
Teddy: Rooster!
Mortimer: Uh-huh. And what does a rooster do?
Teddy: Crows.
Mortimer: It crows. And where do you hunt in Africa?
Teddy: On the veldt!
Mortimer: There you are: crows — veldt!
Teddy: Ingenious! My compliments to the boys in the code department.

Mortimer: Aunt Abby, how can I believe you? There are twelve bodies in the cellar and you admit you poisoned them.
Abby: Yes, I did. But you don't think I'd stoop to telling a fib.

Elaine: Well, that's a fine thing. We're married one minute and you're throwing me out of the house the next.
Mortimer: I am not throwing you out of the house, I am not throwing you out of the house, I am not throwing you out of the house. Will you get out of here?
[He pushes her out and slams the door]

[after finding the dead body in the window seat]
Mortimer: But — what happened to him?
Martha: [cheerfully] He died.

Teddy: Mr. Witherfork!
Mr. Witherspoon: Spoon!
Mortimer: [hands him spoon] Oh, here you go.

Elaine: But, Mortimer — Niagara Falls.
Mortimer: [distracted] It does? Well, let it.

Jonathan: Perhaps we should introduce ourselves. This is Dr. Einstein.
Elaine: Dr. Einstein?
Jonathan: Yes, a surgeon of great distinction... and something of a magician.
Elaine: Now, I suppose you're going to tell me that you're Boris Kar—
Jonathan: I am Jonathan Brewster!

Jonathan: Teddy, I think it's time for you to go to bed.
Teddy: I beg your pardon. Who are you?
Jonathan: I'm Woodrow Wilson. Go to bed!
Teddy: No, you're not Wilson, but your face is familiar. Let me see. You're not anyone I know right now — perhaps later on my hunting trip. Yes, you look like someone I might meet in the jungle.

Mortimer: [Speaking of a character in a play he has seen] He just sits there waiting to be gagged and tied — the big dope! [Jonathan sneaks up from behind and bounds Mortimer up with rope and a mouth gag]
Dr. Einstein: You know, you were right about that fellow. He wasn't very bright.

Cab Driver: I knew this would end up in the nuthouse.
Mr. Witherspoon: [offended] We like to think of it as a rest home!

Mortimer: You mean you knew what you'd done and you didn't want the Reverend Harper to see the body?
Abby: Well, not at tea. That wouldn't have been very nice.

Dr. Einstein: Johnny, why did you kill that man? He was being nice to us and gave us a ride.
Jonathan: He said I looked like Boris Karloff!

Mortimer: Teddy's killed a man, darlings!
Martha: Oh, nonsense!
Mortimer: But there's a body in the window seat.
Abby: Yes, dear, we know.
Mortimer: You know?
Martha: Of course.
Abby: Yes, but it has nothing to do with Teddy.
Mortimer: But...but...
Abby: Now, Mortimer, you just forget about it. Forget you ever saw the gentleman.
Mortimer: Forget?!
Abby: We never dreamed you'd peek.

Mortimer: Men don't just get into window seats and die!
Abby: Of course not, dear. He died first.
Mortimer: But how?
Abby: The gentleman died because he drank some wine with poison in it. Now, I don't know why you're making such a big deal over this, Mortimer. Don't you worry about a thing!

Jonathan: Tonight, we are taking care of Mortimer. And just for him we'll have something special. I plan on using the Melbourne method.
Dr. Einstein: [cringing] No! Not the Melbourne method, please! Two hours!

Mortimer: Teddy, I'd like to introduce you to a doctor.
Teddy: Dr. Livingstone?
Dr. Gilchrist: He thinks I'm Livingstone?
Mortimer: Uh, that's what he presumes.

Lt. Rooney: Who are you? What's your name?
Mortimer: Well, usually I'm Mortimer Brewster, but I'm not quite myself today.

Abby: Just the thought of Jonathan frightens me. Do you remember how he used to cut worms in half with his teeth?
Mortimer: Oh, Jonathan? He's probably in prison or hanged or something by now.

Mortimer: Wait outside.
Dr. Gilchrist: But it's Halloween!
Mortimer: Oh, don't worry about Halloween. The pixies won't be out till after midnight

Jonathan: And now doctor... we go to work!
Dr. Einstein: No, Johnny. I cannot operate without a drink!
Jonathan: Pull yourself together, doctor!
Dr. Einstein: I cannot pull myself together without a drink!

[Mortimer is feeling amorous in the cemetery with Elaine]
Elaine: Mortimer! Right out here in the open with everyone looking?
Mortimer: Yes, right out here in the open with everyone looking. Let everyone in Brooklyn over sixteen look!

Mortimer: What is this? Did everyone in Brooklyn know I was getting married but me?
Martha: We knew you'd find out in time.

Teddy: This is a picture of when I take my hunting trip to Africa. This is me, and this is you.
Dr. Einstein: My how I've changed.

Teddy: [charging up the stairs] CHARGE!!!Charge the block house!!!
Reverend Harper: The blockhouse?
Abby: Yes. The stairs are always San Juan Hill.


Cab Driver: I'm not a cab driver. I'm a Coffee Pot!

Dr. Einstein: Where am I? Oh, here I am.

Dr. Einstein: We got a hot stiff on our hands!

Martha: One of our gentlemen found time to say 'How delicious!' before he died.

Martha: For a gallon of elderberry wine, I take one teaspoon full of arsenic, then add half a teaspoon full of strychnine, and then just a pinch of cyanide.

Police Sgt. Brophy: They're two of the dearest, sweetest, kindest, old ladies that ever walked the earth. They're out of this world. They're like pressed rose leaves.

Reporter: Seems like the same suckers get married everyday.

Baseball Fan: I'll knock you off, you big stiff! You're a bum!

Abby: Now Mortimer, you behave. You're too old to be flying off the handle like this!

Abby: [finding the dead body of Mr. Spinelzo in the windowseat] Well, this is a fine how-do-you-do! It's getting so crowded anyone thinks they can be put in here. We've always wanted a double funeral. But I refuse to hold services for a total stranger.

Dr. Einstein: [hat falling across his eyes] Well, I'm off to Panama. Bon voyage!


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