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  • The 1922 play THE CAT AND THE CANARY was so popular that it made the fortune of author John Willard, who lived to see it filmed no fewer than three times before his death in 1942. Even today the story remains a classic of its kind, inspiring a host of films that mix comedy, mystery, and horror--not to mention still more that focus on suspicious doings in old, dark houses. When questioned by author Gavin Lambert, director James Whale very specifically indicated that the 1927 film version, along with the 1928 THE LAST WARNING, influenced his own work in such films as FRANKENSTEIN and THE OLD DARK HOUSE.

    Both THE CAT AND THE CANARY and THE LAST WARNING were created for Universal by director Paul Leni. But while THE LAST WARNING is not presently available to the home market, THE CAT AND THE CANARY most certainly is, and even some eighty years later is possible to see what all the fuss was about. In term of cinematography, CAT is a remarkably imaginative film, using a series of over-lapping images, close-ups, and dissolves to astonishing effect. In a visual sense it is easily one of the most stylish films of the silent era.

    The plot is a classic of its kind. Like the original Willard play, the film's story mixes a host of already-clichéd ideas with several then-new ones. Today, of course, it can be a bit difficult to them apart! But even so it remains a fair amount of fun. An eccentric millionaire has been hounded to death by his greedy relatives--and when he dies he leaves behind a will that imposes a twenty year waiting period between his death and delivery of his estate to his heir. But who will the heir be? The candidates assemble to hear the will at midnight... and no sooner is the heir named than strange doings are afoot.

    The characters are archetypes: the nice girl (Laura La Plante), the mild-mannered boy (Creighton Hale), the fashion princess (Gertrude Astor), the battle ax matron (Flora Finch), and so on. Perhaps most memorable is the housekeeper (Martha Mattox), an exceedingly dour woman most ironically named Mammy Pleasant! Add in an exasperated lawyer, a creepy doctor, secret passages, hairy hands with needle-like finger nails, stolen diamonds, and as many dashes of comedy as you can get away with, mix well, and you have the inspiration for a seemingly endless list of classic films.

    Although they may seem overly broad by modern standards, the cast plays at the level of what was considered comic-realistic in the late silent era, the production values are first rate, and the plot is quirky enough in a silly sort of way to make the whole thing fun. But it is really the direction and the look of the thing that scores; in its best moments, THE CAT AND THE CANARY is plenty good indeed.

    The film is available in several DVD releases. You should avoid the Alpha release; although the picture is passable, the score is so dire that it completely undermines the film. Although it clearly needs further restoration, the Image release is superior and offers your choice of scores, both of which work with the film rather than against it. Recommended for silent fans and those interested in the development of the classic horror film!

    Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
  • This late silent movie shows off the considerable talents of its director, Paul Leni, as the camera prowls the environs of an old dark house with the gracefulness of a cat, while the actors bob around like canaries, forming uneasy alliances and plotting against one another. The cast is well chosen. Laura La Plante makes a lovely heroine, while bespectacled Creighton Hale makes an agreeable, somewhat Harold Lloyd-like hero. Tully Marshall and Martha Mattox represent, none too flatteringly, the older generation; the former has the face of a drawn, white prune, while the latter makes a perfect battle-axe as the ironically named Mammy Pleasant. By today's standards the movie isn't too scary, though its mood of foreboding is still effective. Its qualities are pictorial more than dramatic, and the print I saw was badly in need of restoration.

    The Cat and the Canary is a key film of the silent era, and was hugely influential in kicking off the old dark house genre that continued into the early talkie period. When sound came in the wisecracks proliferated, which tended to lighten the mood and detract from the suspense. In this one the humor is visual, and the tone is more consistent. There have been dozens remakes and imitations over the years, but the dark, Gothic beauty of the original has never been surpassed.
  • sbibb110 July 2004
    I've read other user comments on this film, and I want to add my own. "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.
  • Like the deadly game between THE CAT AND THE CANARY, so a young heiress feels trapped in a very peculiar haunted house, 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...
  • 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.
  • 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")
  • 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.
  • "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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • An old man (Cyrus West) dies accusing his relatives of hovering over him--like cats over a canary. 20 years after his death his relatives get together as his will is read in his creepy mansion on a dark and windy night at midnight (of course). One person gets all the money and estate--unless they are proved insane. And how about the escaped lunatic from the nearby asylum...?

    This is probably one of the first (if not THE first) movie about the reading of the will, a dark and (purportedly) haunted house and people being murdered. Plotwise it's nothing new and contains some terribly unfunny "comedy". Still it's worth catching.

    It's very well directed by Paul Leni (the juxtaposing of images was clever) and he has fun with the title cards (see how "HELP!" is done). The acting is a little bit overdone (but that's common in silent films) and star Laura La Plante is pretty good. I saw the restored print (which is still in pretty bad shape) and it has an excellent music score that helps too.

    So, worth catching. No great shakes though.
  • 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 modern audiences.

    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.
  • Warning: 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 scary film.

    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.
  • Twenty years after the death of Cyrus West, his remaining relatives come to his foreboding manor to hear the reading of the will. Cyrus leaves his estate (including the prized West Pearls) to his most distant relative, Annabelle West. The will also stipulates that Annabelle must be deemed sane by a doctor the following morning or she will forfeit the estate and it would be left to another of West's heirs whose named is sealed in an envelope. The person mentioned in the envelope starts a campaign to terrorize Annabelle and convince everyone else in the house that she is insane, including kidnapping the lawyer Crosby. Its up to Annabelle and her distant relative (and romantic interest) Paul uncover the guilty party. This film is a real treat for Old Dark House fans with plenty of suspense, thrills, and mystery to keep the audience in attention from beginning to end. The cast is non-descript with no one really stands out, but Leni's direction and Warrenton's cinematography create the exact mood the film needs. The film's drawbacks are Hale's characterization of Paul and the characters of Cecily and Aunt Susan, who become annoying to watch. Rating, 8.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    German director Paul Leni seems, from my personal experience with his films, to be one of the more lighthearted directors to apply expressionist horror techniques to his films. At first glance this might make his films appear as somewhat routine, but there has to be something said for taking horrific subjects and turning them into comedy or adventure, as he's done here in this much-imitated mystery/suspense vehicle derived from the Broadway hit. He exists in roughly the same tradition as the French "Grand Guignol" -- the elaborate setup makes it possible for the audience to have fun with being "chilled." In this case, we have what would today be a very standard haunted house situation. Relatives of an old man who went insane return to his mansion 20 years later to hear the reading of his Will. As part of the Will's conditions, the person receiving the inheritance (who turns out to be a character played by lovely Laura La Plante) must be adjudged sane by a doctor, so someone in the group is trying to drive her insane or make her appear insane so that they can win the money.

    It's very obvious to the audience from the beginning that there are no real ghosts, so the fun in the movie is largely watching the way that the characters are scared by the possibility. There is one character, played by Creighton Hale (who later made B movies for AIP and other companies) who is just completely there for comic relief, and yet he is also the only man in the movie who's sincere and wants to help Annabelle (La Plante). A lot of elements in the movie were probably cliché already by the time it came out, but others were inventive.

    I didn't find the film visually as exciting as some other films in the same genre such as Roland West's "The Bat" or James Whale's "The Old Dark House". Also the performances are pretty much by rote. However there's just a kind of breeziness to the whole thing that makes it fun. And a couple of scenes were very well done visually, such as the scene with Annabelle's pearls being stolen. The use of the looming title card there would be an ideal example of how title cards were used to enhance film artistry rather than as a limitation. In fact that scene in particular very much reminded me of the way Alfred Hitchcock shot the very beginning of "To Catch a Thief" with the jewelry theft. None of the images are quite as disturbing today as those in Whale's and West's films.
  • 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...
  • BaronBl00d22 November 2007
    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.
  • 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.
  • Patti-Gaston11 March 2015
    Warning: Spoilers
    This movie set the bar for the "who-done-its" and may very well be the inspiration for the game of "Clue". The death of a rich uncle brings the family to a crumbling and of course, dark mansion for a reading of the will. The uncle who was driven crazy by his greedy family put a stipulation on the will that it could not be opened until 20 years after his death. As the family gathers together along with the family lawyer a second will is discovered in the locked safe with the original will. This mysterious second will claims a second heir if the first one cannot meet the conditions of the first will. The condition set by Uncle Cyrus was the sanity of the heir must be proved by a doctor. You can all guess what happens next, all sorts of spooky goings on that test the sanity of the heir including lawyers disappearing through secret passageways, diamond necklaces being stolen in the middle of the night and lunatics escaping from the asylum and taking up residency in the mansion. A terrific thriller, dark and brooding, terrific overacting by the lead character and inheritor of the fortune, Annabelle West and the brilliant portrayal of the housekeeper named Mammy. The movie is made better by the fact that it is a silent film. I highly recommend watching it with the lights on.
  • poe42630 October 2014
    Warning: Spoilers
    When a lawyer arrives at the estate of a recently-deceased client for a reading of the will, he finds that there's a living moth inside the safe he sealed twenty years earlier. Clearly, something's not quite right in THE CAT AND THE CANARY. The ensuing attempts by various and sundry people to gain possession of the dead man's riches (by legally proving that the heiress is insane) leads to some classic Horror Movie moments (and images ingrained in many minds long ago by Forrest J. Ackerman's FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND)- moments that have been "re-imagined" a million times since. There's also a Harold Lloyd look-alike who has perhaps the best line in the movie. "Don't interrupt me," he says at one point: "I think I'm thinking." Besides these assets, THE CAT AND THE CANARY offers some amazingly MODERN filmmaking techniques (not to mention the greatest number of dissolves and super-impositions I think I've ever seen). It's called a classic for a reason.
  • This film contains some amazing camera work; the innards of a clock superimposed on a group of people, the camera "floating" down the halls while blowing curtains (that look like ghosts) flit in front of it, and a dying man superimposed with medicine bottles and giant cats (symbolising the relatives who are after his money) gather around. It's a shame that many people don't like silent films, as this one is DEFINITELY worth watching! The spooky sets, "scared-reaction comedy" and all the rest make it a great film!

    My only complaint is that one wishes that the "cat" (who looks VERY creepy) is hardly EVER seen (compared to the other film versions of this movie). I've seen them all and, in my opinion, Bob Hope's version is THE best, but this is a close second!

    Norm
  • 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!
  • Laura La Plante (as Annabelle West) and an assortment of greedy relatives gather at a Gothic Old Mansion to hear the reading of The Will. Relatively soon, we learn The Fortune will be inherited by young Ms. La Plante; however, she must be declared Sane by a doctor - naturally, this is an incentive for someone to drive the dear girl Insane!

    This is a stylishly shot silent "comedy/thriller" spoof of "haunted house" stories - like "The Bat" (a 1920 play, and 1926 movie). La Plante and Creighton Hale (as Paul Jones) are okay as the nominal "leads", but the veteran cast must have been much more amusing to the typical 1920s viewer. Tully Marshall (as Mr. Crosby) and Lucien Littlefield (as the Doctor) were two of the best supporting actors around, and Flora Finch (as Aunt Susan) must have been considered a film legend in 1927 - they are all a hoot, but Martha Mattox really steals the "The Cat and the Canary" with her terrific turn as haunted house hostess "Mammy Pleasant"!

    Interestingly, this was an adaptation of a (1922) stage play - oddly "silent" films made much better movies out of plays than did later "sound" adaptations. Some may argue "sound" productions never figured out how to turn a good stage play into a good movie. Director Paul Leni and Gilbert Warrenton were among those making art (more or less) out of silent film. By the way, there is a scene with the possible "killer" walking in from the right of the screen; but, this is not a "who-done-it" movie as much as it is a spoof of said…

    ******** The Cat and the Canary (9/9/27) Paul Leni ~ Laura La Plante, Creighton Hale, Martha Mattox, Flora Finch
  • Any "old dark house" story should have lots of creepy atmosphere and THE CAT AND THE CANARY is no exception. I grew up on the Bob Hope/Paulette Goddard version made in '39 which had all the familiar ingredients we expect in this horror genre, as well as a comedy suited to the talents of Hope and Goddard. And, of course, to make it even more credible, it had Gale Sondergaard as the sinister housekeeper and George Zucco as Mr. Crosby, the lawyer. Unfortunately, like the stage play, it never did have a plausible or really satisfactory solution to the mystery. That weakness is also evident here in the silent version.

    LAURA LA PLANTE is the distant cousin Annabelle West about to inherit a fortune if she can spend one night in the mansion after the reading of the will by lawyer TULLY MARSHALL, and CREIGHTON HALE (with the spectacles looking a bit like Harold Lloyd) is Paul, the role that Bob Hope played in the later version, a bumbling man in love with the heroine.

    TCM is showing the silent version with a busy Theramin background score and sepia-tone photography in a restored Photoplay version.

    The main drawback is that none of the characters are fleshed out and the murderer's character is never fully established at all. But the photography is amazing considering when the film was made and altogether it makes for a pleasurable viewing experience.

    Highly recommend that anyone who likes this sort of thing ought to check out the Hope/Goddard version to see how the sound version compares to the original. Both versions opt for comedy over horror.
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