ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944)

Seventy-five years ago, Warner Bros. previewed one of its funniest films ever and then had to keep it out of circulation for two more years. Joseph Kesselring’s play about two sweet old ladies with the bad habit of poisoning lonely men was such a success the studio paid $175,000 for the screen rights. They also had to agree not to release the film until the Broadway production closed, which didn’t happen until 1944. The delay didn’t hurt business. The film was a huge success, though often overshadowed by director Frank Capra’s more thoughtful comedies and star Cary Grant’s more sophisticated films. Josephine Hull and Jean Adair repeated their stage performances as the murderous old darlings, along with John Alexander as the nephew who thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt. When it came to casting the play’s top-billed star, Boris Karloff, as their criminal nephew, the producers balked. Warner Bros. even offered to let Humphrey Bogart take the stage role, but negotiations fell through. Instead Raymond Massey endured four hours a day in the makeup chair to play a character transformed by bad plastic surgery to look like Karloff’s Frankenstein’s monster. Peter Lorre, Jack Carson, Edward Everett Horton and Priscilla Lane co-star. (d. Frank Capra, 118m, 35mm)