22 June 2004 | j-mcelhatton
A Poor Man's Cat & The Canary - Yet Still Hilarious
The other reviewers here weren't too impressed by this, but I must admit to laughing practically all the way through. This film is very much a second-rate retread of the classic Cat & The Canary, with Jack Haley doing the Bob Hope schtick, yet it is far more entertaining than it has any right to be. Haley is a very entertaining & likable 'hero' and is well served by the witty script, which is brimming with snappy one-liners. Lugosi, whose performance will undoubtedly be the biggest draw for modern audiences, proves surprisingly adept at comedy; as the suspicious butler, he has a lot of fun sending up his image. I particularly liked the running joke involving the coffee that may or may not be laced with rat poison; by the end of the film, Lugosi's catchphrase line 'Anybody Want A Cup Of Coffee?' has become hilarious through repetition, especially since the dubious-looking coffee is always refused by everyone. I particularly enjoyed the following exchange (my wording) :
LUGOSI: "Would you like a cup of coffee?" HALEY: "Depends. There are two types of coffee, percolated or drip. What type have you got?" LUGOSI: "It is the percolated kind." HALEY: "No thanks, I'm a drip."
OK, maybe you had to be there.
Although the mystery & the comedy elements are not up to the standard of the 1939 Cat & The Canary, this is still a superior spooky-house thriller. The ne'er do well relatives waiting for their piece of the estate are a splendidly hateful bunch; the sequence in which Lyle Talbot's lawyer reads out the late millionaires' comments about each of his relatives sets up their characters beautifully. Talbot, of course, stops short of reading out the old man's comments about him ("I would trust him as far as I could throw...an elephant").
In short, I would recommend this to fans of old-fashioned spooky house thrillers & fans of Lugosi who'd like to see him trying his hand at playing for (intentional) laughs. It's streets ahead of most of his poverty row 1940s output, which is for the most part utterly dire, and I was surprised at how often I laughed out loud. I'm going to be very generous with this, as it made me laugh more than any other film I've seen recently, including a lot of modern comedies.