What are some differences between Arsenic and Old Lace the play and Arsenic and Old Lace the movie?

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Arsenic and Old Lace is a dark comedy about Mortimer Brewster, his fiance or wife, Elaine Harper (depending on whether you're referring to the play or the movie adaptation of the play) and his two spinster aunts, who have taken it upon themselves to murder old men as a way of sparing them from loneliness. The two unstable aunts serve the elderly bachelors with elderberry wine laced with arsenic, strychnine and just a pinch of cyanide, and their brother, Theodore (who believes he is Theodore Roosevelt) buries the dead bodies in the cellar.

There are a few differences between the movie and play, among which are:

1) The play is set entirely in the Brewster living room, unlike the movie.

2) The play is set in September while the movie is set on Halloween.

3) In the play, Mortimer Brewster was a drama critic, while the movie version had him as a writer of anti-marriage books.

4) Different actors played the part of Mortimer Brewster. In the play, the part was played by Boris Karloff, but Raymond Massey did the honors for the movie.

5) The ending was also different; in the play, Mr. Witherspoon takes the aunts to the sanitarium, but ends up being the aunts' final victim. In the movie, final scenes have the two aunts telling Mortimer that he's not actually related to the Brewsters after all. Mortimer is so happy that he kisses his bride before they go on their honeymoon. The final line, "I'm not a Brewster, I'm the son of a sea cook," was changed from "I'm not a Brewster, I'm a b*s***d."

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the major differences between the play and movie versions of Arsenic and Old Lace is that the play (which is in three acts) takes place entirely in the Brewsters' living room in Brooklyn, while there are exterior shots in the movie, including the opening shots of Brooklyn. In addition, Mortimer and Elaine appear at the clerk's office to be married in the movie.

In the play, Mortimer and Elaine are not married, while in the movie, Mortimer is married to Elaine at the beginning of the action. The play begins in September with Abby Brewster speaking to the reverend next door, who is Elaine's father, the Reverend Dr. Harper. The movie, on the other hand, begins on Halloween, when Elaine and Mortimer are secretly wed at city hall. 

The movie version is far more sanitized than the play. For example, at the beginning of the play, Mortimer asks Elaine where she learned about life, as she is a minister's daughter. She replies, "in the choir loft." Mortimer then says that he will explain to her "the close connection between religion and eroticism." Religion is not discussed in this way in the movie. In the play, it is conveyed that Mortimer cannot wait to marry Elaine, while in the movie, Mortimer is a reluctant groom who has written a book called Marriage: A Fraud and a Failure.

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