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Arsenic and Old Lace – DreamCast

To learn more about this, we suggest checking out the DVD of the original, available here. Or if you just want the original play, that’s here.

Also, in reviewing this to port it to the new version of the site, I thought I was satisfied with the cast. Then Cosette threw doubt on my Mortimer choice…and it all unraveled from there. So there I went and moved the majority to the Ultimate side of the house. Then that meant we needed a new Mortimer–and she nailed the new one. So that’s why we’re here. Let’s proceed.


Role DreamCast Ultimate DreamCast

Mortimer Brewster Simon Pegg Tom Hanks, circa Apollo 13
Jonathan Brewster Jeremy Irons Boris Karloff, circa 1941
Dr. Einstein Billy Crystal Peter Lorre
Abby Brewster Joan Plowright Joan Plowright
Martha Brewster Maggie Smith Maggie Smith
Teddy Brewster Nathan Lane Mel Blanc
Elaine Harper Amy Adams Audrey Hepburn, circa Charade
Officer O’Hara Dylan Moran Spike Milligan, late 60s
Mr. Witherspoon J. K. Simmons James Whitmore, early 70s
Lt. Rooney Brian Doyle-Murray Ron Carey, circa History of the World
Directed by Frank Oz Frank Capra


Why Arsenic and Old Lace? Well, this one is near and dear to my heart, because I was Officer O’Hara in one stage production, and Mortimer in another. And I look at it this way: you have a play with a bunch of really great kooky characters in it, and it’s just screaming to put a top notch cast into it. It was originally done in 1944 with Cary Grant in the role of Mortimer, and then apparently again in 1969 for television, although I don’t know too much about that one. Anyway, if you haven’t seen the version with Grant, you should go snag it.

Mortimer Brewster: The idea behind this is that Hanks doesn’t do a lot of comedies these days. And that’s I suppose understandable, considering how damn good the man is at…well, playing anything. And in this, he gets to be the only sane person in a house and family full of complete whackos. Like I said, get the version with Grant in it, and see if you don’t agree. I always could just see Hanks saying: “There’s a body in the window seat!” Trouble is this: when we first did this cast, Hanks was about the age that Grant was when he played Mortimer. That was…a while ago. Now Cosette is right: he’s too old. So we need a new Mortimer. And Cosette nailed it: give it to Simon Pegg. He’s nearly forty. And he can do exasperated and the center of the storm quite well.

Jonathan Brewster: No contest. Irons wins hands down for our modern cast. Here’s why, and it’s more than just the fact that Irons would make a great comic villain. He certainly needs a break from the whacko roles he normally plays. Hey, Jeremy–here’s a whacko role for you. Anyway, as you may or may not know, Jonathan has undergone a buttload of plastic surgery on his face, because he’s a wanted man and trying to avoid arrest. His latest face was done by Dr. Einstein while the good doctor was intoxicated, so Jonathan looks like Boris Karloff, and everyone in the play keeps telling him so, which really, really pisses him off. Now what’s great is that in the stage version, Boris Karloff originated the role of Jonathan! Anyway, Irons is compared to Karloff all the time, so it would work wonderfully. And whoever does the film will not change the line to say he looks just like Irons. Stick to the script, guys. And as for our ultimate cast, we get to have Karloff play the role on the screen which he couldn’t play because he was tied up with the play. It can then be made right.

Dr. Einstein: So if we’ve got Karloff as Jonathan, we’re going to do something unusual: keep the original. Who wouldn’t want to see Karloff and Lorre together in these roles? Answer: nobody. And as for the modern cast–I’m sticking with Billy Crystal, my first choice. Put him in some interesting glasses and have him put on an interesting accent. I think it works.

The Aunts, Abby and Martha: We had some thoughts on this…because it’s obviously a pair of fantastic roles. My initial thought was to cast the Redgrave sisters, but Bailey put me on the trail of these two: Plowright and Smith. The trick is you need two older actresses who you’d never suspect. That’s why we couldn’t go with Angela Lansbury–because, you know, she has played Mrs. Lovett. But then when trying to find an ultimate pair, it was a bit hard. Especially when the first choice that our friend Diana said: Helen Hayes and Lillian Gish–sounded great. Until we realized that it was because they were in that TV movie we mentioned. So for the moment, we’ll keep the modern and the ultimate aunts the same. Any ideas are welcomed.

Teddy Brewster: Nathan Lane is our modern Teddy. I mean, seriously, give him a moustache and a pith helmet and it’s just perfect. As for our ultimate cast, it hit me–somebody you wouldn’t normally think of for an acting role. Mel Blanc. See some of the live action comedy he’s done if you want to see what he’s capable of.

Elaine Harper: Now I must admit, that Elaine’s job in this show is to kind of stand around and act confused, although she’s certainly not a dimbulb. She’s to be the ultimate in ingenue-dom. Amy Adams is the portrait of innocent determination. And if we had to go with someone as an ultimate Elaine, why not the ultimate in ingenues: Hepburn. Trouble is, you can’t have somebody who’s too strong-willed, like the other Hepburn, Miss Katharine.

Officer O’Hara: So we need a crazed Irishman to relate his play to Mortimer while the poor guy’s tied to a chair. When we think of crazed Irishman, Dylan Moran is the go-to guy. He would need to actually act–and not in his crazed slightly drunk angry at everything bit like in, say, Black Books. But I think he’s good for it. Same thing with our ultimate pick, Spike Milligan, who I’d love to see in anything.

Dr. Witherspoon: Basically a walk-on role, but interesting nonetheless. J.K. Simmons is good playing any administrator. As for an ultimate Witherspoon, since we recently lost him–James Whitmore. Who, again, looks like a clean cut asylum operator.

Lt. Rooney: Another admin type. Thinking of character actors to tap for it–Brian-Doyle Murray is perfect for bit parts like this. And Ron Carey we didn’t get nearly enough of.

Directors: Again, we’re going to go with the original for the ultimate: there’s others that we could snag to do it, sure, but I just want to see him with that cast. As for who we would get for the modern version: you need somebody who could pull off the mania of the original without taking it too far. And let’s face it, finesse isn’t the strong point for most directors these days. So we go with Oz, who has made us laugh on many an occasion.