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The 1922 play THE CAT AND THE CANARY was so popular that it made the
fortune of author John Willard, who lived to see it filmed no fewer
than three times before his death in 1942. Even today the story remains
a classic of its kind, inspiring a host of films that mix comedy,
mystery, and horror--not to mention still more that focus on suspicious
doings in old, dark houses. When questioned by author Gavin Lambert,
director James Whale very specifically indicated that the 1927 film
version, along with the 1928 THE LAST WARNING, influenced his own work
in such films as FRANKENSTEIN and THE OLD DARK HOUSE.
Both THE CAT AND THE CANARY and THE LAST WARNING were created for Universal by director Paul Leni. But while THE LAST WARNING is not presently available to the home market, THE CAT AND THE CANARY most certainly is, and even some eighty years later is possible to see what all the fuss was about. In term of cinematography, CAT is a remarkably imaginative film, using a series of over-lapping images, close-ups, and dissolves to astonishing effect. In a visual sense it is easily one of the most stylish films of the silent era.
The plot is a classic of its kind. Like the original Willard play, the film's story mixes a host of already-clichéd ideas with several then-new ones. Today, of course, it can be a bit difficult to them apart! But even so it remains a fair amount of fun. An eccentric millionaire has been hounded to death by his greedy relatives--and when he dies he leaves behind a will that imposes a twenty year waiting period between his death and delivery of his estate to his heir. But who will the heir be? The candidates assemble to hear the will at midnight... and no sooner is the heir named than strange doings are afoot.
The characters are archetypes: the nice girl (Laura La Plante), the mild-mannered boy (Creighton Hale), the fashion princess (Gertrude Astor), the battle ax matron (Flora Finch), and so on. Perhaps most memorable is the housekeeper (Martha Mattox), an exceedingly dour woman most ironically named Mammy Pleasant! Add in an exasperated lawyer, a creepy doctor, secret passages, hairy hands with needle-like finger nails, stolen diamonds, and as many dashes of comedy as you can get away with, mix well, and you have the inspiration for a seemingly endless list of classic films.
Although they may seem overly broad by modern standards, the cast plays at the level of what was considered comic-realistic in the late silent era, the production values are first rate, and the plot is quirky enough in a silly sort of way to make the whole thing fun. But it is really the direction and the look of the thing that scores; in its best moments, THE CAT AND THE CANARY is plenty good indeed.
The film is available in several DVD releases. You should avoid the Alpha release; although the picture is passable, the score is so dire that it completely undermines the film. Although it clearly needs further restoration, the Image release is superior and offers your choice of scores, both of which work with the film rather than against it. Recommended for silent fans and those interested in the development of the classic horror film!
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
This late silent movie shows off the considerable talents of its
director, Paul Leni, as the camera prowls the environs of an old dark
house with the gracefulness of a cat, while the actors bob around like
canaries, forming uneasy alliances and plotting against one another.
The cast is well chosen. Laura La Plante makes a lovely heroine, while
bespectacled Creighton Hale makes an agreeable, somewhat Harold
Lloyd-like hero. Tully Marshall and Martha Mattox represent, none too
flatteringly, the older generation; the former has the face of a drawn,
white prune, while the latter makes a perfect battle-axe as the
ironically named Mammy Pleasant. By today's standards the movie isn't
too scary, though its mood of foreboding is still effective. Its
qualities are pictorial more than dramatic, and the print I saw was
badly in need of restoration.
The Cat and the Canary is a key film of the silent era, and was hugely influential in kicking off the old dark house genre that continued into the early talkie period. When sound came in the wisecracks proliferated, which tended to lighten the mood and detract from the suspense. In this one the humor is visual, and the tone is more consistent. There have been dozens remakes and imitations over the years, but the dark, Gothic beauty of the original has never been surpassed.
Like the deadly game between THE CAT AND THE CANARY, so
young heiress feels trapped in a very peculiar haunted
surrounded by lurking, unseen evils...
This is a dandy old creeper of a silent horror film, with just the right mix of menace & mirth to please the uncritical viewer. Universal gave the movie very fine production values, which extend not only to the atmospheric sets, but also to the humorously spooky title cards scattered throughout.
This film is really story driven, rather than dominated by the personalities of its stars. However, mention should be made of very entertaining performances by Tully Marshall as the scabrous old lawyer, Flora Finch as a terrified auntie, and Lucien Littlefield as an exceedingly strange doctor. Laura La Plante as the lovely, frightened heiress & Creighton Hale as her nervous, scatterbrained cousin give a light touch to the romantic subplot.
THE CAT AND THE CANARY is a choice example from the Old Dark House genre of spook tales. All the elements are here: distressed young ladies, a crumbling mansion, a housekeeper of baleful aspect, a lawyer who knows too much, an escaped lunatic, stalking ghosts or monsters, missing wills, meetings at midnight, bony and/or hairy hands appearing from hidden bedroom panels, secret passageways, and sudden death. Unnerved characters are forever making silly choices which always lead them into the clutches of the ravening ghosts/monsters/lunatics. But the Old Dark House has for long years been a respected avenue in literature & movies to maximize suspense & tension. Indeed, it's only a short walk from West Mansion in this film to Wuthering Heights, Baskerville Hall, Manderley & the Bates House...
Whether you take it as a good-natured send-up of the 'old dark house' genre,
or simply as a semi-serious horror/comedy, either way "The Cat and the
Canary" is good entertainment. The atmosphere in the dusty old mansion is
done very well, with plenty of creativity, and the story moves at a good
pace and is told well. These are more than enough to make up for a few plot
holes and a couple of characters that are left undeveloped.
The cat/canary image, which was deliberately exaggerated somewhat, is simple but it ties the story and characters together rather well. Most of the characters are interesting, although a couple of them never really take shape. Most of the performers seemed to enjoy their roles, and they worked well together, with most of them making good use of their moments in the spotlight.
If you enjoy silent movies, you should find this a pleasant way to spend an hour and a half or so.
I love watching movies from years ago, particularly silent films. Some are good, some I cannot finish. However, there are those films that are simply brilliant. The Cat and the Canary falls into the latter. I have watched this over and over and marvel at how real it seems. The viewer's post prior to this was accurate in everything she said. The sets were so realistic, I actually thought it was a real haunted house. My particular favorite scene is the opening, as the camera pans down the hallway, with the curtains blowing in the wind. Very ethereal, ghostly feel. As far as the acting, I could find no fault with any of it. This is simply a wonderful movie and is worth viewing again and again. I feel guilty only spending $5 for it.
"The Cat and the Canary" has been considered a masterpiece, and that the
film is still known today is a feat in itself. It is easily my favorite
silent film. Paul Leni (the director) has a great deal of prowess on films
like these, and it has been admitted by others.
First, the sets are realistic, making this film a believable "journey back in time" (it was made over 70 yrs. ago). I am shocked to hear one reviewer say this film as broadly acted and visually stunted. The sets are marvelous, especially the drawing room (it looks very nice to be part of a "haunted house"). The camera work (ex. the skeleton double-exposure, the subtitles occasionally moving like a ghost) is very enjoyable, too.
About the acting, first get this straight: Much of the acting is quite normal. But in the fright scenes (especially by Laura La Plante), the acting has nothing wrong with it. Much of it is very funny (contrary to common belief). Flora Finch (Aunt Susan) is funny as the gossiper, and Creighton Hale as Paul is cute. Why do most of you find the broad acting painful to watch? If you can't find silent films enjoyable, all I can tell you is, tough luck. Classic films are as a general rule better than the new ones, but even new films can be very good.
I've read other user comments on this film, and I want to add my
"The Cat and The Canary" is one of those films that is often spoken about as
being one of the classic horror films of the silent era, and after watching
this film it is easy to see why.
From the opening sequence, of a hand brushing away dust and cobwebs to reveal the films title, to the closing shot, the film is very spooky. Yes, I will say that at times the film is almost too spooky, and that some of the acting is overdone.
The plot of the film is simple: 20 years after a wealthy and thought to be insane man has died, his family gathers to read the contents of his will.
Those who see this film will see all types of cliches in the horror movie genre, hidden panels, hands reaching out from behind walls, creepy shadows, but the interesting thing to note is that this film was among the first to use these effects, in other words you are seeing these things occur before they became commonplace.
This was an early horror film made by Universal Pictures, fresh on the success of other classic Universal horror films like Phantom of the Opera and Hunchback of Notre Dame.
The director of this film, Paul Leni, was German, and the film directly relates that. This film is a classic example of how German filmmaking influenced American films. If you like this film, and especially the camera style, stylish sets, and the general modd and feel of the film, take a look at other German silent films, and you will love them as well.
This film is now Public Domain, and is available on DVD and VHS from several companies. IMDB lists its length in the 80 minute range, however the version I saw, with a new score is 101 minutes long. I highly reccomend this film.
The millionaire Cyrus West has spent the last years of his life in his
mansion nearby the Hudson River considered insane by his greedy
relatives and feeling like a canary in a cage surrounded by cats. When
he dies, he stipulates that his lawyer Roger Crosby (Tully Marshall)
would read his will that is kept in a safe in the twentieth anniversary
of his death. On the scheduled day, Cyrus West's loyal servant Mammy
Pleasant (Martha Mattox) and the lawyer welcome the guests in the
creepy mansion that people tells that is inhabited by ghosts: West's
nephews Harry Blythe (Arthur Edmund Carewe), Charles "Charlie" Wilder
(Forrest Stanley), the scared Paul Jones (Creighton Hale), Aunt Susan
Sillsby (Flora Finch), Cecily Young (Gertrude Astor) and West's niece
Annabelle West (Laura La Plante). When Roger Crosby opens the will,
West's mansion and fortune are left to the most distant relative having
the name West, meaning Annabelle. However, she should prove first that
she is sane; otherwise, the inheritance would be bequeathed to another
heir whose name is in a sealed envelope. Out of the blue, a guard
(George Siegmann) comes to the mansion and tells that a dangerous
lunatic has fled from an institution. During the night, Roger Crosby
disappears and Annabelle receives an envelope from Mammy Pleasant where
West tells the location of his precious diamonds. Annabelle finds the
jewels and wears a necklace, but while she is sleeping, a hand comes
from the wall and steals the diamonds from her neck. With the exception
of Paul Jones that loves Annabelle, her relatives believe that she is
insane. But when Annabelle finds a hidden chamber in the wall with the
body of Roger Crosby, Mammy Pleasant decides to call the police and the
identity of the lunatic is disclosed.
"The Cat and the Canary" is a creepy mystery and horror silent film by the German Expressionist director Paul Leni. The plots blends black humor with elements of horror using the atmosphere of the expressionism with shadows and lighting, and the result is a stylish movie where even the inter-titles are funny. The beauty of Laura La Plante is very impressive. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "O Gato e o Canário" ("The Cat and the Canary")
This has been restored by Kevin Brownlow and Photoplay Productions. The new print is beautiful and shows why Paul Leni was considered a master. Sure, the plot is slight, but Leni is so imaginative and unrestrained in his style that you just sit there with your mouth open in amazement. Most every shot is a masterpiece. The sets and photography are wonderful. There's way too much silly humor in it -- Leni's far more effective at the scary moments. But leading lady La Plante is effective; and the more ghoulish secondary roles are handled with relish. You wonder why most haunted house movies of the 30's and 40's didn't have this much style. They should have learned from the Master. I hope this restored version makes it out on DVD soon.
This is the stereotypical old dark house movie, all the relatives come to
and old dark house and some one begins to kill them, or tries to. This has
been remade several times, each version having its flaws and its strengths.
This is the first version, and while I would like to say its the best, I
can't since the silent medium has rendered its pace a bit too slow for
This isn't to say that its a bad film. Its not. Anyone interested in film and what can be done with it should see this film because the first half of this movie is a treasure trove of cinema techniques. The first half is also a damn good movie as well since it wonderfully sets everything up. Only as things begin to follow there course does the pacing slow. Its far from bad, it just may have you look at your watch now and again.
I give it seven out of ten, not perfect but watchable.
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