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If, like me, you've heard this movie for years touted as one of the most
influential silent horrors of all time, you may be a tad disappointed. As
Mike Weldon points out in the `Psychotronic Video Guide,' midnight
will-readings and creaky old houses were already old hat by the late
twenties, and this film probably got as many giggles as shudders even in its
day. Nevertheless, there are some nice camera-effects and decent sets, and
for fans of the genre, it remains a must. A particularly noteworthy image is
the chiming of the long-dead clock, with its innards superimposed upon the
characters collected for the reading of the will.
Plotwise, I was surprised firstly by the hero's (perhaps unwitting) resemblance to Harold Lloyd - accentuated by the presence of `Haunted Spooks' at the end of the tape. Noticeably lacking, however, is Lloyd's irreverence and comic timing this fellow just winds up being a comedy-relief dud, oddly reminiscent of the wanna-be adventurer from `Seven Footprints to Satan.' Even Lloyd's most clownish characters would not have missed the obvious romantic interest of the heroine, or failed to at least pretend to be macho in front of her (with the usual hilarious results). Our boy in `Canary,' however, seems to be entirely unaware of his opportunities.
Without needing to give anything away, I was also a bit disappointed by the final revelation of `whodunit.' In fairness, that means I didn't manage to predict the perpetrator but this was more because the film did not play fair and offer enough clues than because of its brilliant web of complexity. That certain characters are more than they would seem is obvious, and the primary `red herring' of the film is easily detected, but one needs a fuller appreciation of the motivations of our various suspects in order to make a reasoned guess. This is particularly important in a silent film, where so much has to be judged by facial expressions and visual cues.
It would not be fair to place blame upon Paul Leni for the unfortunate score on the videotape, which was obviously composed by someone from the "some guy with a Casio" school of music.
On the whole, however, `Cat and the Canary' has its place as a classic of the `spooky old house' genre, whether it invented the cliches or merely enhanced them, and I would not hesitate to recommend it to any viewer.
I always tend to get a bit soft and emotional when commenting on old films, such as the 1927 version of "The Cat and the Canary". Just imagine 85 years of age, this film is, and it still manages to find its way to new audiences. Everyone of the cast and crew is long dead and to put it a bit less respectful decomposed but at least their legacy will live on for much longer than mine or yours (probably). "The Cat and the Canary" even still reaches fairly large new audiences, as I watched it in an artsy theater during a thematic festival and complete with musical guidance on the piano. Paul Leni's version of "The Cat and the Canary" isn't just the first of many adaptations of the famous stage play by John Willard, it also still stands as the ultimate and most prototypic Old Dark House horror. All the trademarks commonly referred to as clichés nowadays can be found here in this trendsetter, and presumably for the first time ever: the reading of the will at midnight, the ominous housemaid, the mysteriously vanishing notary, the secret passageways in the library and behind the bed, the clumsy comic relief cousin and yes even the predictable identity of the maniacal killer on the loose. This film is a joy to behold, thanks to the splendid performances (particularly Tully Marshall as the stern notary, Martha Maddox as the creepy maid and Laura La Plante as the cherubic victim) and the atmosphere that is simultaneously frightful and light-headed! Through some imaginative camera angles, Leni generates and handful of spooky moments but the overall tone remains accessible for wider audiences. There are a few obvious holes in the plot (like for example the main heiress being too young for a testament that lingered around for two decades) but you will gladly overlook those. Silence is golden!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"I always look under the bed but I've never found anything yet".
I really enjoyed The Cat and the Canary, but I'm at somewhat of a loss to explain exactly what it is that I liked. Not that anything in it was bad-on the contrary, pretty much everything about it was good.
The story is simple enough. A wealthy man dies, but stipulates that his will should not be read until twenty years after his death. At that time, assuming she is of sound mind, he leaves his entire fortune to his niece. If a doctor finds her to be insane, then the fortune is left to an unnamed person found in an envelope held by the attorney reading the will. But he disappears in the house before informing the heirs who this would be, and it seems that someone is out to make the niece insane, or worse.
IMDb lists this as a horror movie and a mystery, and while I would agree with that classification, I would also have to say that this film is a comedy. There are too many comical aspects for it not to be counted as such. But this film does a great job of setting up a "spooky" atmosphere and carries with it an aura of suspense and mystery that lasts throughout the whole film.
There are a lot of haunted house clichés in this film, but it is early enough that these were probably (at least in some cases) not clichés at the time-I suspect this may be the film in which the beginnings of the cliché are found. At any rate, it is an entertaining movie which I highly recommend.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
German director Paul Leni seems, from my personal experience with his
films, to be one of the more lighthearted directors to apply
expressionist horror techniques to his films. At first glance this
might make his films appear as somewhat routine, but there has to be
something said for taking horrific subjects and turning them into
comedy or adventure, as he's done here in this much-imitated
mystery/suspense vehicle derived from the Broadway hit. He exists in
roughly the same tradition as the French "Grand Guignol" -- the
elaborate setup makes it possible for the audience to have fun with
being "chilled." In this case, we have what would today be a very
standard haunted house situation. Relatives of an old man who went
insane return to his mansion 20 years later to hear the reading of his
Will. As part of the Will's conditions, the person receiving the
inheritance (who turns out to be a character played by lovely Laura La
Plante) must be adjudged sane by a doctor, so someone in the group is
trying to drive her insane or make her appear insane so that they can
win the money.
It's very obvious to the audience from the beginning that there are no real ghosts, so the fun in the movie is largely watching the way that the characters are scared by the possibility. There is one character, played by Creighton Hale (who later made B movies for AIP and other companies) who is just completely there for comic relief, and yet he is also the only man in the movie who's sincere and wants to help Annabelle (La Plante). A lot of elements in the movie were probably cliché already by the time it came out, but others were inventive.
I didn't find the film visually as exciting as some other films in the same genre such as Roland West's "The Bat" or James Whale's "The Old Dark House". Also the performances are pretty much by rote. However there's just a kind of breeziness to the whole thing that makes it fun. And a couple of scenes were very well done visually, such as the scene with Annabelle's pearls being stolen. The use of the looming title card there would be an ideal example of how title cards were used to enhance film artistry rather than as a limitation. In fact that scene in particular very much reminded me of the way Alfred Hitchcock shot the very beginning of "To Catch a Thief" with the jewelry theft. None of the images are quite as disturbing today as those in Whale's and West's films.
Laura La Plante (as Annabelle West) and an assortment of greedy
relatives gather at a Gothic Old Mansion to hear the reading of The
Will. Relatively soon, we learn The Fortune will be inherited by young
Ms. La Plante; however, she must be declared Sane by a doctor -
naturally, this is an incentive for someone to drive the dear girl
This is a stylishly shot silent "comedy/thriller" spoof of "haunted house" stories - like "The Bat" (a 1920 play, and 1926 movie). La Plante and Creighton Hale (as Paul Jones) are okay as the nominal "leads", but the veteran cast must have been much more amusing to the typical 1920s viewer. Tully Marshall (as Mr. Crosby) and Lucien Littlefield (as the Doctor) were two of the best supporting actors around, and Flora Finch (as Aunt Susan) must have been considered a film legend in 1927 - they are all a hoot, but Martha Mattox really steals the "The Cat and the Canary" with her terrific turn as haunted house hostess "Mammy Pleasant"!
Interestingly, this was an adaptation of a (1922) stage play - oddly "silent" films made much better movies out of plays than did later "sound" adaptations. Some may argue "sound" productions never figured out how to turn a good stage play into a good movie. Director Paul Leni and Gilbert Warrenton were among those making art (more or less) out of silent film. By the way, there is a scene with the possible "killer" walking in from the right of the screen; but, this is not a "who-done-it" movie as much as it is a spoof of said
******** The Cat and the Canary (9/9/27) Paul Leni ~ Laura La Plante, Creighton Hale, Martha Mattox, Flora Finch
This is one eerie movie. That it is over 75 years old shouldn't detract from its place among "scary movies." The production values are scrumptious. The acting is a bit over the top (Aunt Susan) but all in all, an eerie night with shadows and interesting interplay among the characters. But the Paul/Annabelle relationship is a bit creepy. Aren't they (gasp!) cousins????? The hairy hand is a bit over the top too. Mammy Pleasant (is her name an inside joke?) is waaay too menacing. I saw this on TMC (loved the sepia tone) and the soundtrack is exhilarating, though a tad too fast for the action. This is a gem of a horror movie.
Twenty years after the death of Cyrus West, his remaining relatives come to his foreboding manor to hear the reading of the will. Cyrus leaves his estate (including the prized West Pearls) to his most distant relative, Annabelle West. The will also stipulates that Annabelle must be deemed sane by a doctor the following morning or she will forfeit the estate and it would be left to another of West's heirs whose named is sealed in an envelope. The person mentioned in the envelope starts a campaign to terrorize Annabelle and convince everyone else in the house that she is insane, including kidnapping the lawyer Crosby. Its up to Annabelle and her distant relative (and romantic interest) Paul uncover the guilty party. This film is a real treat for Old Dark House fans with plenty of suspense, thrills, and mystery to keep the audience in attention from beginning to end. The cast is non-descript with no one really stands out, but Leni's direction and Warrenton's cinematography create the exact mood the film needs. The film's drawbacks are Hale's characterization of Paul and the characters of Cecily and Aunt Susan, who become annoying to watch. Rating, 8.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie set the bar for the "who-done-its" and may very well be the inspiration for the game of "Clue". The death of a rich uncle brings the family to a crumbling and of course, dark mansion for a reading of the will. The uncle who was driven crazy by his greedy family put a stipulation on the will that it could not be opened until 20 years after his death. As the family gathers together along with the family lawyer a second will is discovered in the locked safe with the original will. This mysterious second will claims a second heir if the first one cannot meet the conditions of the first will. The condition set by Uncle Cyrus was the sanity of the heir must be proved by a doctor. You can all guess what happens next, all sorts of spooky goings on that test the sanity of the heir including lawyers disappearing through secret passageways, diamond necklaces being stolen in the middle of the night and lunatics escaping from the asylum and taking up residency in the mansion. A terrific thriller, dark and brooding, terrific overacting by the lead character and inheritor of the fortune, Annabelle West and the brilliant portrayal of the housekeeper named Mammy. The movie is made better by the fact that it is a silent film. I highly recommend watching it with the lights on.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When a lawyer arrives at the estate of a recently-deceased client for a reading of the will, he finds that there's a living moth inside the safe he sealed twenty years earlier. Clearly, something's not quite right in THE CAT AND THE CANARY. The ensuing attempts by various and sundry people to gain possession of the dead man's riches (by legally proving that the heiress is insane) leads to some classic Horror Movie moments (and images ingrained in many minds long ago by Forrest J. Ackerman's FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND)- moments that have been "re-imagined" a million times since. There's also a Harold Lloyd look-alike who has perhaps the best line in the movie. "Don't interrupt me," he says at one point: "I think I'm thinking." Besides these assets, THE CAT AND THE CANARY offers some amazingly MODERN filmmaking techniques (not to mention the greatest number of dissolves and super-impositions I think I've ever seen). It's called a classic for a reason.
As the title clearly suggests, this is a murderous 'game' of the hunter
and the hunted... It all starts - where else - in the dark old mansion
of a dying millionaire, who draws his will, to be opened only 20 years
after his death... So, after all those years have passed, his relatives
all assemble in the creepy old house - every one of them, of course,
hoping that he or she will be the sole heir to the fortune. But first
arrives the old man's attorney, to greet the old housekeeper (Martha
Mattox, who specialized in roles like this, and fits perfectly into the
spooky atmosphere) - and to find that the safe has been opened
recently, and the papers have been tampered with...
And then the family members make their appearance one by one; but the feeling between them, of course, isn't very friendly. Finally, the old clock strikes midnight, and the attorney opens the will; and it declares the deceased's niece Annabelle (Laura La Plante) as the 'winner' - under ONE condition: that a physician has to prove her mentally sane! Otherwise the fortune will go to the person mentioned in a second envelope that's still sealed...
So we can all imagine what's bound to follow: a night of terror, with the attorney being murdered, tales of the old man's 'ghost' spooking around, a warden coming in and speaking of an escaped lunatic - in short, everything possible is being done to drive the 'canary' Annabelle crazy...
This is a CLASSIC among the Classics of the genre, perfectly directed and acted, with a very effective musical score, constant games with shadows on the wall, nice (and very modern for the time) camera effects to enhance the suspense; and of course the whole 'old dark house' repertoire with turning bookshelves, terrifying claws reaching out from behind every corner, dark figures walking through the old halls... And there even is some comical relief, provided by Annabelle's cowardly cousin Paul (Creighton Hale); the entertainment as well as the suspense value - not to speak of the historical importance - of this movie is really immeasurable!
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