Monday, November 7, 2016

The Cat and the Canary (1939)

Per instructions, a rich man’s last will and testament is to be read in his spooky old mansion, at midnight, ten years after he died. Standard operating procedures, really. The will states that if the sole heir dies or is proven crazy within 30 days, the estate will go to a person named in a second envelope. Also, pretty boilerplate. After the hot, hot heir is named, everyone is forced to stay the night. Oh yea, and there might be a deranged murderer on the loose.

Taken from the same source as the silent classic (as were a couple others), this version was reformulated to showcase budding starlet and Chaplin main squeeze Paulette Goddard, and Bob Hope. It’s success prompted the studio to star the same pair in another comic horror The Ghost Breakers, rushed to theaters just seven months later. Despite how that sounds, that feature was also successful.

The tropes so associated with haunted house movies are in full force here. Secret passages, scary hands from behind things, real eyes watching from paintings, plus all that stuff described in the premise. This all may have been invented either by the source play or the silent version.

Hope was witty, Goddard was charming, and the story holds up. At it’s heart it is a comedy, but it is still faithful to the horror genre: a plausible element of the supernatural and a sense of fear for both the characters and audience. Amusing, interesting, creepy to a point, and an enjoyable watch. AMRU 3.5. The 'cat' was the escaped lunatic.
Cicily: Don't big empty houses scare you?
Wally Campbell: Not me, I used to be in vaudeville.

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