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This little gem has long been one of my favourites: since I taped it in
the '80's my daughter and I have watched it dozens of times, and
although the 1934 horror film may be better it's still lovely to watch.
Universal Pictures in the 1940's could churn out inconsequential family
entertainment films like this so seemingly effortlessly and all with a
special atmosphere that marked them apart from their bigger and richer
rivals. Russell Gausman as set director did his usual fantastic job of
creating something gorgeous to look at from nothing and the
nitrate-film photography by Stanley Cortez was beautifully brooding,
when the comedy allowed.
Relatives with secrets and problems assemble at a dying old lady's spooky old house to find out how much they'll inherit from her when the day comes. Or whether her army of beloved pampered cats will get it all. Dapper Basil Rathbone had the biggest problems of them all - but was he the one who murdered the old lady, or was she killed from kindness after all? There could have been some mysterious feline power at work, Alan Ladd looked like he'd shoot everyone for a nickel, Gladys Cooper was very demure even if very strong, Gail Sondergaard (her line "Two is equal to one" matched her "Sometimes they get into the machinery" from Cat And The Canary) and Bela Lugosi were as creepy as ever, Claire Dodd was plain nasty and John Eldredge just too dumb to be real. However I don't care what anybody says the lovely Anne Gwynne was never going to be Guilty in my eyes! Chunky Broderick Crawford and Hugh Herbert bumble through it all as the hero and light relief this was a big vehicle for Herbert to woo-hoo his way through too. His over-zaniness can be a problem at times was he and Crawford there in place of some songs or Abbott & Costello and overall did he help or detract? And what the Hell was Anne Gwynne supposed to see in Broderick Crawford anyway??
Maybe it helps to have seen it when young to see it now through rose-tinted spectacles. It can be too melodramatic at times, especially during the otherwise gripping climax, but with plenty of lovely smoky visuals and a rich atmosphere to wallow in I've always enjoyed watching this and hope to many more times.
This is a fairly typical old dark house comedy of the sort that was popular in the wake of the Bob Hope Cat and the Canary of a couple of years earlier. Gale Sondergaard is even on hand, as in the earlier film; and this one, while hardly brilliant, has some wonderful photography and great (and exceedingly familiar) standing sets. It's a routine reading of the will plot, with the usual suspects, here more lively than usual, with Runyon refugee Broderick Crawford, Gold Diggers alumnus Hugh Herbert, deerstalker- and meerschaum-less Basil Rathbone, and a sadly defanged Bela Lugosi, in a minor role. If one goes for old-fashioned studio thrillers and isn't too demanding of dialog, which is far from clever, or plot, which isn't too ingenious, this one might be just what the doctor ordered on a dark and rainy night.
The Black Cat is directed by Albert S. Rogell and written by Robert
Lees and Robert Neville. It stars Basil Rathbone, Hugh Herbert,
Broderick Crawford, Bela Lugosi and Gale Sondergaard. Music is by Hans
J. Salter and cinematography by Stanley Cortez.
Henrietta Winslow, a cat-loving old dear, is coming to the end of her days. Tonight her parasitic family have gathered at the Winslow mansion to rub their hands with glee as Henrietta's will is read out. But.......
.....Henrietta knew that whom the black cat follows dies!
"That house is doubly blest. Which to the feline friends gives rest"
It's hardly a classic from the old dark house murder mystery treadmill, but The Black Cat is enormous fun and gets the sub-genre staples spot on. It's a big old fashioned mansion that is host to the creepy shenanigans, complete with secret passageways, revolving booths, suits of armour and roaring fires. There's even a creepy cat crematorium annex in the grounds as well! Naturally it's a stormy night, and naturally the collection of weasels and deviants start getting bumped off one by one. Cue much shrieking, blaming, dodging and the odd red herring. The mystery element is strong, with a good reveal preceding a fiery finale, and there's some high energy antics thrown in for good measure; the latter concerns Crawford's character who jumps through armour, leaps off a balcony and constantly falls down on the floor. Cast are working on a par with the material, with the highlights being Crawford, Sondergaard (who is deliciously spooky) and Herbert (who is the Lou Costello type comedy relief).
More comedy than creeper, but a comfortable recommendation for fans of similar movies. 6.5/10
Given one of the most abused titles in cinema history (innumerable films were supposedly inspired by Edgar Allan Poe's short story but few, if any, bothered to be faithful to it), the plot of this one could go in any direction. Universal had already used the title for one of its most stylish (and potent) horror offerings in 1934, so the 'remake' tried something entirely different: an old dark house comedy-chiller on the lines of THE CAT AND THE CANARY (itself brought to the screen several times, the most recent up to that time emanating from 1939). As always with this kind of film, we get a plethora of characters brought together for the hearing of a will and then starting to die violently one by one; the cast is notable and eclectic including two horror stars (Basil Rathbone and Bela Lugosi: the latter was also in the earlier version, where his role was far more substantial), whereas the comedy is supplied by Broderick Crawford (proving surprisingly adept and likably accident-prone!) and the insufferable Hugh Herbert. Of course, there is a damsel-in-distress (pretty Anne Gwynne, also serving as Crawford's love interest) being invariably the one to receive the lion's share of the fortune possessed by the dotty (and cat-loving) owner of the estate; also on hand are Gale Sondergaard (as the sinister housekeeper, a virtual reprise of her role in the aforementioned version of THE CAT AND THE CANARY) and Gladys Cooper and Alan Ladd(!) as mother and son (the former is married to Rathbone, but he carries on an affair with another relative present). Being definitely a B-movie, the film is best compared to similarly modest ventures in this vein: even so, not involving recognizable comics (such as THE GORILLA  did with The Ritz Brothers) or a horrific figure (a' la NIGHT MONSTER ) both films, incidentally, feature Bela Lugosi in an almost identical (and equally thankless) part the film ends up not satisfying anyone even if it is harmless enough as entertainment, the eerie atmosphere well up to par and the identity of the villain (who perishes flamboyantly in a blaze) a genuine surprise.
The housekeeper's name (Gale Sondergaard)
was "Abigail Doone".
Review: Even tho' this is a Great film, the first person to be murdered should've been Hugh Herbert! With his presence, this film can't decide whether it's a mystery trying to be a comedy, or vice-versa. It's STILL a great, spooky film, tho! Norm Vogel
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Before I discuss the film in depth, I want to point out that this film
wasted two talented actors. In the case of Alan Ladd, I can't blame the
studio too much--after all, he was still a bit player and it wouldn't
be for another year or two until he achieved notoriety. But for
Universal Pictures to cast Bela Lugosi and place him in such a small
and insignificant role in an old house-type movie is crazy and a real
shame. It's really a shame they didn't give obnoxious Hugh Herbert one
of these smaller roles, as he really, really hams it up and just
doesn't fit into the overall tone of the film (likewise, he was
horrible and out of place in SH!THE OCTOPUS). As for the rest of the
class, with such wonderful stars as Basil Rathbone and Gladys Cooper
among others, the film has some exceptional performances for such a
Despite the title, this film has nothing to do with the earlier Lugosi film of the same title nor does it compare in almost any way to the Poe short story (except for the cat stuck behind something concept). Instead, it's a murder mystery with a hint of comedy. An old lady is beset with greedy relatives who can't wait to take her fortune after she dies. She's apparently dying and one of the family even called in some people (Hugh Herbert and Broderick Crawford) to buy the contents of the old home. However, unexpectedly the lady recovers--prompting someone to kill her so they no longer need to wait! However, inexplicably, no one seems to notice when Crawford insists the lady was murdered--everyone seems very eager to accept that it was an accident--even though shortly before the lady died, there was an attempt to poison her!! This is a bit of a plot hole, as no sane people (even greedy ones) would be so quick to dismiss the possibility of murder. So, it's up to Crawford to stick around, solve the mystery and avoid a "cat-astrophe".
Overall, it's a fun but relatively unremarkable Universal picture that perhaps the other reviewers have been a bit too kind to. However, it did give Crawford one of his first starring roles and is a decent time-passer.
PS--Towards the end, get a load of how strong Gladys Cooper is supposed to be! Considering her age and frail look, having her exerting herself in the hidden passages is really silly. Also, had this been made just a year or so later, it probably would have been an Abbott and Costello film and probably would have worked a bit better with them in Crawford's and Herbert's roles.
1941's "The Black Cat," not to be confused with Bela Lugosi's 1934 classic, is merely another 'Old Dark House' murder-mystery in a comic vein, in the wake of 1939's "The Cat and the Canary." The unfunny comedy relief is supplied by Hugh Herbert, while the remainder of the stalwart cast maintain interest throughout, despite a severely dragging middle in which virtually nothing of interest happens, one red herring topping another. The young Broderick Crawford is certainly likable, and pairs nicely with lovely Anne Gwynne, but top-billed Basil Rathbone is reduced to playing a weasely scoundrel, fooling around with beautiful Claire Dodd behind the back of desperate wife Gladys Cooper, to the annoyance of her devoted stepson (Alan Ladd). Henrietta Winslow (Cecilia Loftus) has been at death's door for some time, but makes certain that her many cats will be taken care of, along with longtime housekeeper Abigail Doone (Gale Sondergaard) and caretaker Eduardo Vedos (Bela Lugosi); when she gets stabbed to death with a long hatpin, hardly anyone bats an eye. One of the nicer aspects of the film is that the titular black cat actually becomes the hero during the admittedly thrilling climax, first alerting Crawford to his girl's danger, then causing the killer's demise. Claire Dodd was enjoying a resurgence at Universal ("In the Navy," "The Mad Doctor of Market Street"), where she had previously starred in 1934's "Secret of the Château," while the relatively unknown Alan Ladd remained a year away from stardom in "This Gun for Hire." Lugosi is genuinely amusing but sadly wasted, happily hamming it up in numerous gag photos on set; Gale Sondergaard, the one cast member from "The Cat and the Canary," remains stuck in dour mode, the still attractive actress amply filling out her uniform. No classic but entertaining, "The Black Cat" appeared four times on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater: Jan 4 1975 (following 1945's "A Game of Death"), Aug 28 1976 (following 1960's "Dr. Blood's Coffin"), July 23 1977 (following Al Adamson's "Man with the Synthetic Brain"), and June 11 1983 (solo). The 1934 "Black Cat" had been a 5 time broadcast before this 1941 title debuted, totaling 8 overall.
I say "attempts" because most of the comedy just falls flat. This could
have been a great little thriller if Broderick Crawford and Hugh
Herbert's bumbling around in the dark could have been omitted. Instead,
this film comes across more inane than sinister.
I give it 6/10 because the mystery is good enough and the atmosphere is pure Universal horror. The background of the story is that a wealthy elderly lady has provided her estate as a haven for homeless cats, complete with creepy crypt and crematorium for them when they die. She has just dodged another bout with death through illness when she decides to read her will to her greedy relatives ahead of time. Shortly afterwards the elderly woman dies mysteriously, followed by the discovery of an addendum to the will, followed by the mysterious deaths of other members of the household, all during the period of one dark and stormy night. For some reason Universal figured the presence of an investigating protagonist would not be enough for this one - that injecting some bumbling good guys in the spirit of Abbott and Costello would be a good idea, but they (Broderick Crawford and Hugh Herbert) just distract the viewer from the mystery aspect with their lame attempts at humor.
The sad part of this film is how little Bela Lugosi is given to do. At this point in his career he is pretty much relegated to walking around and looking creepy.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For my taste, there's too much humor in this semi-spoof of the old dark
house type mystery, but it manages to be fairly entertaining anyway.
The strongest thing the movie has going for it is the marvelous sets, that really convey the feeling of a large and elaborately furnished old mansion out in the country. The typical thunderstorm that strands a group of people for the night is present and contributes greatly to the spooky atmosphere.
Cecelia Loftus is wonderful as the old lady whose will has a surprise in store for her greedy relatives. Good supporting performances from Anne Gwynne as the nicest member of the family, with such reliables as John Eldredge and Basil Rathbone among the would-be heirs, including a surly young Alan Ladd and Gladys Cooper as Rathbone's long suffering wife. Bela Lugosi gets to look sinister a lot, but his character is actually benign, if a bit cryptic.
The weakest parts have to do with the rather forced comedy involving real estate hustlers Broderick Crawford and Hugh Herbert, who are hoping to sell the old house and its collection of antiques. Crawford's character is meant to be a sort of bumbling hero, but he gets pretty annoying, with his almost manic energy. Hugh Herbert has a few amusing moments, such as his naive conversation with the predatory Gale Sondergaard as the housekeeper, when she offers him a suspicious looking cup of tea. But his brand of absent-minded humor is more intrusive than comical most of the time, and the picture would have been better if played a little more straight.
This is a fairly entertaining little movie overall and should be enjoyed by most viewers who like the mysterious old house type of film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The family of Henrietta Winslow gathers in her old rambling house for
the reading of her will. Problem is, Henrietta's not dead. But this
greedy bunch will soon see to that. Before you can say "Watch out
Granny!", she's been murdered. And Henrietta won't be the only person
murdered this night as greed takes hold of everyone involved.
Based on what I've read over the years about the 1941 version of The Black Cat, I'm a little surprised at how much I enjoyed it now that I finally had the opportunity to see it. No, it's not the best thing that Universal put out, but it is an enjoyable little mystery/thriller with a great setting and a strong cast. On its face, The Black Cat would seem to be a movie tailor-made for me a creepy dark old house filled with hidden rooms and secret passages, a dark and stormy night, Basil Rathbone, multiple murders with multiple suspects, Bela Lugosi, and no escape because of a washed-out bridge. What's not to love about the set-up? The Black Cat successfully mixes comedy with the chills something that can be difficult to successfully do. There's a scene with Lugosi doing his best impersonation of a cat-wrangler that had me laughing out loud. Or the scene where one character condescendingly remarks that Rathbone's character must think he's Sherlock Holmes good stuff! I found the ending to be very satisfying. After a delightful series of red herrings, it's always a treat to discover the killer is the absolute last person you would have considered. And while I mentioned Rathbone and Lugosi, the entire cast is great. Even Broderick Crawford, seemingly terribly miscast as the films unlikely hero, is a lot fun.
Overall, I'm very happy to have finally "discovered" The Black Cat. It's one I'm already looking forward to revisiting.
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