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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

classic Grand Guignol comedy

7/10
Author: funkyfry from Oakland CA
25 August 2008

*** 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.

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Stylish Spoofery of the Old Haunted House

8/10
Author: wes-connors from Los Angeles
11 September 2007

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 Insane!

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

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Cat and the Canary: Spellbinding

Author: accidentaldays from United States
27 June 2006

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.

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Old Dark Houses the Old Dark House

8/10
Author: Mike-764 (michaelnella@yahoo.com) from Flushing, NY
31 July 2004

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.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Spooky

7/10
Author: Patti-Gaston from United States
11 March 2015

*** 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.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Remarkable restoration...

10/10
Author: poe426 from USA
30 October 2014

*** 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.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

One of the most CLASSIC 'old mansion mysteries' of all

10/10
Author: binapiraeus from Greece
24 February 2014

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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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Welcome back to This Old Dark House

8/10
Author: Tender-Flesh from United States
28 November 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Remade about five times, this is the grandfather of haunted house films. But, fear not, gentle viewer, not all tis scary here. This plays more as a comedy than a horror or thriller. Oh, there are a few moments when the lady viewers may swoon and require a hand fan or a handkerchief, but as a whole, you'll be smiling.

About as good of a silent film as your likely to see, especially with this subject matter, the director has a great eye for setting the stage for a spooky night in a haunted mansion. There are some excellent overlapping shots, especially of the aged, sickly homeowner in a "cage" of medicine bottles surrounded by giant, snarling black cats. Long hallways, stormy night, billowing curtains, creeping shadows, hidden rooms, hidden passages, old cobweb-covered gears running the show on the other side of the walls, and the complimentary maniac complete with fake bulging eye and monstrous bulldog teeth stalking the unsuspecting guests---what more could you ask for? The old man died, leaving a will that requested all those who might stand a chance to inherit any of his loot should return to the old house 20 years to the day after his death for his lawyer to handle the estate. A handful of distant relatives arrives, including the sole inheritor, Annabelle, plus nerdy Paul, Aunt Susan, Cecily, and two other idiots. We also are haunted with the spectral image of the very much alive Mammy Pleasant who would make Frau Blucher cry. Then, naturally, during the course of the evening, an escaped mental patient has made his way to the grounds of the estate and could be inside, followed by his pursuer, a burly hospital security guard with a hat that reads "Guard."

I would have enjoyed this even more if it was played totally straight, but there is plenty o' comedy here. Can't say enough about the cinematography and atmosphere. I would have thought a great ruse would have been to use Paul as the killer, since he seemed the nerdiest and most frightened of the bunch(he even hides in the girls' bedroom and gets jammed in the backside with a bedspring for his trouble). But, there are plenty of other red herrings to go around, and you will find yourself counting who is present and who is not during different scenes to see if you can figure out the killer before the film's action packed fight at the end. If you are already a fan of silent films, then this would be a good film to introduce to your friends, spouse, or children if they are reluctant to "read" a movie. Tons of fun.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Apparitions from another world

8/10
Author: Gary170459 from Derby, UK
16 November 2008

This is one of those must-see-at-least-once haunted house films, being one of the originals. I've seen it more than a few times. It took me years to track it down on VHS, nowadays it seems everywhere on digital platforms. It was very well done, a very pleasant comedy and well worth while and yet imho is nowhere near as good as the 1939 remake, that is if comparisons between silents and talkies are permitted. To me it's the same story therefore the two are comparable, although the 1979 version is probably best utterly forgotten if not completely forgivable for being such a time waster.

Various quirky guests assemble at huge spooky mansion at midnight exactly 20 years after the death of their eccentric relative Cyrus West to hear the reading of his Will and who gets his money. It always struck me as odd that the greedy relatives didn't initially contest the bizarre rule, after all some of them might have joined him Upstairs in the intervening 2 decades! Creighton Hale and Laura La Plante played the lead characters of Paul and Annabelle excellently – but unfortunately without the same sparkle Bob Hope and Paulette Godard had when playing Wally and Joyce 12 years later. However, the 1927 version had some nifty camera-work, inventive intertitles, some witty moments (especially Aunt Susan encountering the wide eyed Paul under her bed!) and nice sets with a lovely atmosphere that all still manages to suck you completely into the plot. I would add that the version I just saw ran 93 minutes with a rather stale soundtrack, I thought the tape I watched in the '90's was more sympathetic at 126 minutes long - there's apparently a wide range of versions now available on DVD so a little care in choosing seems required. As I'm still searching for the Perfect Copy this applies to me too!

All in all an enjoyable and essential silent film to see even if you don't like the genre; if you do then I would particularly recommend the remake as one of the best films ever made.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

A Classic, Historic Winner, And Not At All Creaky

7/10
Author: ferbs54 from United States
14 November 2007

During the course of this film, one of the characters utters the line "Gosh, what a spooky house," and boy, does that line ever ring true! The original "old dark house" story, "The Cat and the Canary" (1927) was based on a John Willard stage play of 1922 and has been filmed no less than four times as of this date. The film shows us what happens when a dead man's will is read in a creepy old house on the Hudson to a bunch of oddball relatives, one of whom, Laura LaPlante, inherits a fortune with the proviso that she passes a sanity test. And poor Laura's sanity IS put to the test that very night, what with an escaped madman on the loose, a possible ghost running around, hands coming out of the walls, mysterious disappearances, and a house full of secret passages, swing-out bookcases and so on. Despite some comedic bits that border on the inane but never quite cross that fine line, "The Cat and the Canary" is genuinely creepy in parts. It also features excellent photography, interesting camera angles, expressionistic and surrealistic backdrops, some blatant symbolism, fascinating use of superimposed images and an appropriately strange score. The dialogue cards are at times very imaginative, and this crisp-looking print has been nicely color tinted for our viewing pleasure. As usual in many silents, the comedic, cowardly character proves to be more than he initially appears. But I'm not giving anything away here; most viewers will never guess who the murderer/ess is in this film. It's a classic, historic winner, not at all creaky, and even suitable for the kiddies. I do recommend it.

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