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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.
I'm a fan of both horror films and silent films, but I didn't have a chance to get around to this one until now--and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Other reviewers have already indicated how well-directed it is, and some have pointed out that the "overacting" is intentional in what was always understood by 1927 audiences as a spoof of the "Old Dark House" genre that was popular on Broadway for much of the decade and spilled onto the movie screen. Once you understand that everyone KNEW these were cliches, you realize there's no reason to take a patronizing attitude. I have to say this is the most satisfying "ODH" film I've seen (not considering actual haunted house films like the first version of "The Haunting"). It has a light touch and almost every shot makes some delightful choice--moving camera, jarring close-up, dutch angle, etc. Director Leni succeeds in making this stage play seem cinematic. One shot has a frightened character speeding through the corridor, apparently on an unseen bicycle! The shot of the body falling down out of a closet onto the camera has been much imitated, both seriously (as in "Public Enemy") and as parody (Warner Bros. cartoons). For a quick comparison, check Roland West's early talkie "The Bat Whispers." Although nothing in "Cat" reaches quite the level of West's most astonishing shots, the film as a whole is more satisfying and less stagey.
Look for the new Special Edition version of the 1927 'The Cat and the Canary' put out by Image Entertainment in February 2005. This one now replaces the earlier 1998 Image version altogether and has many improvements in it. I've seen several favorable reviews of this new version in several of the better silent film websites. Also, take care to avoid discount versions on this film. You'll be disappointed. This preservation effort was headed by David Shepard of Film Preservation Associates, as it was remastered from a very good quality 35mm print. It's visually far better than any other version I've seen. Also, there are TWO scores to choose from. The default score is an original composed by Franklin Stover with the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra performing. The other score consists of the original 1927 score by James Bradford, performed on synth-org by Eric Beheim.
I recall being somewhat underwhelmed by this on first viewing (its
reputation having ensured it a place in my very first online DVD
purchase!) but, rewatching the film now, sees it elevated to its
rightful place among the best horror films of the Silent era - indeed
one of the great Silents, period.
It's the quintessential "old dark house" film which, in their 1920s heyday, seemed to always incorporate comedy (since many of these had actually originated on the stage). Of its kind, I've also watched THE MONSTER (1925; starring Lon Chaney) as well as the Talkie remake of THE BAT (1926), called THE BAT WHISPERS (1930) - all of these, incidentally, were made by director Roland West; one more I'd love to catch up with is Benjamin Christensen's SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO Satan (1929), though two other films he did in the same vein - THE HAUNTED HOUSE (1928) and HOUSE OF HORROR (1929) - are, regrettably, considered lost! Leni himself directed THE LAST WARNING (1929; though that was actually set inside a theater).
Anyway, the film certainly provided the right atmosphere: visually, it's a real treat (even if the DVD I own is the earlier Image edition, i.e. not the Remastered one) - highlighting Gilbert Warrenton's mobile camera and optical effects and Charles D. Hall's fantastic set design (but even the title cards bring their own inventiveness!). The cast, some of whom are familiar (such as Tully Marshall, Arthur Edmund Carewe, George Siegmann and Lucien Littlefield), is well-assembled - even if none of the roles require much depth and are more or less stereotypes, such as the 'fraidy cat' who eventually makes good, the elder female relative (equally terrified), the sinister-looking old servant-woman devoted to her dead master, the innocent and put-upon heroine, etc.
While the pace is somewhat slow (the plot really gets going during the second half), the film is tremendously entertaining all the way through; when I first watched it, I had felt that too much attention was given to the comic relief but this time around I saw the film's mixture of thrills and laughter as more evenly balanced (and the gags themselves not terribly archaic). With respect to the horror element, it's not so much to the fore - since the film is more of a thriller really; in fact, "The Cat" itself doesn't feature in it all that much, but there's no denying that it's a memorably ghoulish creation!
The end credits themselves are quite amusing: reproducing the cast list (which would come to be a Universal trademark) so that patrons could cite those participants who had particularly pleased them - followed by a request by company President Carl Laemmle, urging the public to write to him personally with their opinion of the film! The score (which is a re-recording of the original accompaniment to the film) sounds awfully familiar and was probably re-used for other Silents or subsequent Universal horror films.
Some years ago I had also watched the 1978 remake of THE CAT AND THE CANARY (surprisingly directed by Radley Metzger, better known for his ventures in Erotica!) and would love to get to the 1939 version which cemented Bob Hope's popularity and is, actually, as highly regarded as the original(!); unfortunately, it's only available in a reportedly atrocious print on Region 2 DVD...
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!
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