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"The Cat Creeps" is the last film directed by Rupert Julian, whose single best-known credit is the silent version of "The Phantom of the Opera", starring Lon Chaney. But Chaney and Julian quarrelled bitterly during production of that film: Julian was ultimately dismissed from the set, and Chaney took over the direction himself (with an uncredited assist by Edward Sutherland). So, Julian's reputation is based on a film which he largely didn't direct. "The Cat Creeps" is probably a better indication of his talents, which weren't much.
"The Cat and the Canary" was a spooky-old-house stage play by John Willard, which was filmed several times. The two most notable versions are Paul Leni's 1927 moody silent film and the 1939 remake which played up the comedy relief and made a star of Bob Hope. "The Cat Creeps" is the first talkie version, made only three years after Leni's silent, and probably retitled so as to avoid comparisons.
It's a poor film. Many early sound-era films were much more ponderous than late silent films, due to the heavy sound-recording equipment and the bulky mufflers (called "blimps") that were needed to soundproof the cameras. Even by early talkie standards, "The Cat Creeps" is a VERY slow film, in every way inferior to the 1927 and 1939 versions.
The film sticks very close to Willard's play and the Leni version. Ten years after a miser's death, his relatives meet in his creepy old house for the reading of the will. (Isn't it actually illegal to delay the reading of a will this long?) The terms of the will are read out by Lawyer Crosby: the other characters keep calling him "Lawyer Crosby", as if that's his name. Annabelle West (Helen Twelvetrees) stands to inherit the lot, unless she conveniently goes insane (from, let's say, terror .. or maybe boredom) before she leaves the old house. If Annabelle goes bonkers, then all the lovely lolly goes to... suddenly the lights go out! When they go on again, Lawyer Crosby has vanished into thin heir.
Oh, yeah, I forgot. There's a homicidal maniac loose on the premises. (No home should be without one.) He's known only as the Cat, but evidence indicates that the Cat is also one of the disinherited relatives ... who might just inherit after all if Annabelle is driven insane. (Why doesn't he just kill her?) Meanwhile, Lawyer Crosby's corpse falls out of the cupboard. Where's the will? Stodgy Neil Hamilton, warming up (or cooling off) for his future role as Commissioner Gordon in the "Batman" TV series, flusters his way through his role here as Annabelle's handsome protector ... or could he possibly be the evil Cat?
"The Cat Creeps" was made during Universal Studios' great period of horror films, so it's disappointing that this movie delivers so little "boo!" for the buck. Helen Twelvetrees displays so little screen presence, she ought to be pruned down to Helen Threetrees. As for her acting ability ... well, she's pretty to look at, but that's all. If you've seen another version of "The Cat and the Canary", you know how this version ends. In fact, this version offers nothing that isn't done better in the '27 or '39 version, or both. Skip this unnecessary remake. It's alleged "historic" significance is negligible.
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