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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.
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...
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.
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 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.
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.
I had seen The Cat and the Canary several times before I sat down to watch the Kino transfer. It has amazing clarity, a beautifully appropriate score, and does more than ample justice to one of the cornerstones of the silent era and the horror genre respectively. The story is simple enough: a wealthy man dies leaving his money to an heir detailed in a sealed envelope for all to see years after his death. We are introduced to the main star of the film early on - the eerie, creepy, web-strewn house. A house filled with long-flowing drapes, creaky(we must imagine) steps, mazes of twisting hallways, a series of hidden compartments and passageways all over, and the obligatory servant that hangs on to her job years after her employer has passed away. Director Paul Leni knows how to set the mood and make atmosphere reign supreme as his camera lens moves to shadows and light with the greatest of ease. The acting complements the atmosphere with great turns really by all involved. Tully Marshall, though in a small role, makes more impact with his little screen time than other actors would be capable of doing. Martha Mattox, as Mammy Pleasant of all names, is exceedingly creepy and effective as the old maid of the manse. Beautiful Laura LaPlante is the heiress who must spend a night amidst jealous, vengeful, greedy relatives. LaPlante has an exquisite smile and grace about her and effectively can go from light horror to light comedy. But Leni makes more than just a horror film here with Creighton Hale as Paul Jones, LaPlante's cousin and love interest. With Hale Leni relies heavily on mixing horror and atmosphere with broad light comedy. Hale, with his Harold Lloyd glasses and look, really is quite amusing as a bungling, easily frightened man who gets to relive his adolescent crush. The other actors are just dandy(seems to work in a review for a film this old) and the killer is not terribly hard to figure out - but that is secondary to the mood, tension, pace, and characterizations that lead to his/her unveiling. The Kino print is really just gorgeous. The music is just right and the title cards are perfect. Two scenes in particular stand out for me as classic Leni: One, Mattox, with candle in hand walking down a corridor with a row of windows draped and blowing as the winds blows indiscriminately and two, Tully Marshall about to read the name of the heir should LaPlante be proved to be crazy. Wonderfully shot! An ageless classic of the silent cinema for sure.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie had incredible production values--with amazing and creepy
cinematography and an excellent musical score in the latest restored
version. They did so much to set the mood and make this a genuinely
The story concerns a rich old guy who has written a strange will. It is only to be read after 20 years and remains sealed until that time. His surviving relatives all return like vultures to pick at the fortune but instead of dividing it among them, he leaves it to one of them with another to receive the fortune if anything happens to the sole inheritor. Naturally, bad things start to happen and the film becomes a whodunit. At times it's really good--with lots of trap doors and suspense, but it also suffers from predictability. The actual conclusion isn't all that surprising. Considering how few potential murderers there are among them and how the one guy sneaks away early in the film with a flimsy excuse, it isn't too surprising who is doing all the bad things in the old dark home.
It's very entertaining and fun--just not exactly the best conclusion I have ever seen.
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