For: strong moral confusion including comical euthanasia
Arsenic and Old Lace has all the charm one could possibly expect from a movie that ends with two serial killers’ age-prejudiced euthanasia being successfully covered up by their dashing, young (positively-portrayed) relative who’s spent the entire plot racing against both time and an ethical justice system to frame his innocent younger brother for eleven murders. Arsenic and Old Lace is a surprisingly blatant, ultimately sick perversion of right and wrong, with just enough quaint moments and memorable one-liners to get the majority of us former fans off on the insanity plea.
Strong Moral Confusion Including Comical Euthanasia
The first plot twist of the story is when Mortimer stumbles upon a fresh corpse in the house his two aunts share with one of his two younger, mentally deranged brothers. Upon inquiry, Mortimer finds out that his two aunts had lured this old man into their home and then murdered him. To his further surprise, the women proceed to casually inform Mortimer that, not only did they kill the stranger lying dead in the window seat—they poisoned ten other old men to death before him. And they don’t plan on stopping now.
The two women do not plan to kill indiscriminately, however. Young people are safe because of their youth. People with friends and family are safe because they have people who actually want them to be alive. Old men, however… lonely old men, in particular… are better off dead. They’re less peaceful when they are alive. So Aunt Abby and Aunt Martha have conspired to euthanize as many elderly, solitary men as they can entice through their front door—which would have been twelve, if Mortimer hadn’t gotten in the way.1
As the plot thickens, Mortimer’s horror over the eleven first-degree murders quickly turns into an idea to pin all of the killings on his innocent, unsuspecting brother, so that he can simultaneously save himself from negative press and by foul means throw the police off the trail of two serial murderers he wants to go free. And when he finally does succeed in throwing the police off the trail, it’s Arsenic and Old Lace’s twisted version of a happy ending.
The one and only draw that Arsenic and Old Lace has as a movie is its attempt at humor, and Arsenic and Old Lace is the moral equivalent of a comedy movie about an abortion clinic or the death of Terri Schiavo.
1 The murder of innocent people is an abomination to God (see Proverbs 6:16-17), and it doesn’t matter how old the victims are, how quietly they were killed, or whether or not the murderer wore a lace collar.