The Cat And The Canary (1939)

OCTOBER 25, 2010


I’m not a big fan of “Old Dark House” movies, but I thought it would be fun to watch one on the big screen for once instead of on a poorly transferred Mill Creek budget disc, so off I went to the New Beverly (fittingly, my car “broke” on the way home, more than likely for the last time – I like that it made it to the Bev one last time) to see The Cat And The Canary, which I heard was one of the better ones. Plus, with Bob Hope in the lead, it promised to be slightly more “A list” than the usual poverty row ones I watch.

Well, yes, it is one of the better ones! Hope is a total delight in the film, and makes me want to go back and watch some of his Road movies (I saw a couple as a kid – didn’t really have any appreciation for them then). Some say that comedy has an expiration date, but I still found a lot of his lines pretty funny, particularly his response to “there are spirits all around you” (“Can you put some in a glass with a little ice?”). As suspected, he seems to be the only one that gets any laughs – if you remove him from the movie it’s just another old dark house movie that pretends to have ghosts but is ultimately just about a jerk trying to screw folks out of an inheritance. So it’s pretty remarkable what having a skilled performer can bring to the proceedings (though one of the other guys gets a good laugh in, mocking someone’s attraction to a not-particularly-attractive woman).

It’s also got a pretty good climax, which also helps elevate it above a lot of the others. The “Cat” is pretty creepy looking for an old movie, and there’s a nice sequence of him sneaking around a hidden passageway, trying to catch up to our heroine (Paulette Goddard), and even killing a random cop in the process (still not sure what the hell the cop was doing in there, but it doubles the film’s body count, so no complaints!). And then there’s the final showdown in a shed, with Hope pinned to a wall (I seriously thought he got killed for a second) and the Cat’s identity being revealed as the guy I figured it was almost instantly.

There’s also a slightly weird tone to the movie, as everyone is related and yet they form attractions and romantic relationships. One character goes out of their way to make sure we know the connections aren’t exactly close (“he’s your third cousin twice removed!”) but still – what the hell, people? Seek outside family gatherings to find your next conquest.

But like just about all of these things, it’s just too much talk and not enough scares. I’m fine with it not really being a haunting as they try to make you believe at first (though the chime sounds are thus never explained), but it doesn’t excuse the number of scenes where the tiniest little thing happens and then they spend the next 10 minutes talking about it. It’s also got the weirdest goddamn will I’ve ever heard – the dead guy’s wish is to divide the property up among everyone who still has the same surname as he (Norman), which is just one person. But to get it, she has to stay sane for 30 days, which of course prompts the entire plot into motion (drive her crazy so it will go to someone else). Who the hell puts this much effort into their will? Look, when I die, you all don’t have to do a goddamn thing. Jeff gets Potato Man, Caitlin gets my video games, etc.

This is actually a remake of a silent film from 1927, and has been remade several times since. I wonder if any of them actually go off course and make it really haunted (AND have the “Cat” on top of everything else). I’m trying to remember if any of the ones I watched on the Mill Creek sets ever had any true supernatural origins; I don’t think they did. What the hell, two generations ago? Why were you so against having actual ghosts in your movies?

I hadn’t seen the 2nd movie (The Ghost Breakers - the trailer is below since I couldn't find one for Cat and the Canary) either, but alas I had to go watch the premiere of Halloween: The Inside Story, featuring a guy who looked shockingly like me (he had shorter hair and makeup on). Obviously I can’t review it proper, due to the “slight” bias, but it was obviously the result of hard work and lots of phone calls – no existing retrospective on the film (or series as a whole) had assembled so many of the principles from the film. Pretty much every living cast member and primary crew offered new interviews, including usual holdouts like Kyle Richards (Lindsay) and Tony Moran (Michael sans mask). Even Carpenter and Jamie Lee offered new interviews, which is also a “get” as they have claimed they are sick of talking about it in the past (neither appeared for new interviews in the 25 Years of Terror documentary). And I was pleased with my contributions – I first appeared saying “You gotta love Carpenter’s balls”, and appeared 2-3 more times throughout the two hour (with commercials) piece. Enough to keep me from saying “Why did I bother!” but not enough to be intrusive (as I’ve said in my reviews for other docs, I don’t like to spend too much time listening to people who had nothing to do with the movie, especially when they have so many marquee draws on hand). Not sure if it will hit DVD, but I hope so, as there are a number of “deleted scenes” (you can watch them on the Bio website!), largely concerning the sequels and remake, subjects that they don’t spend too much time on in the finished doc. It’s been a while, so I can’t remember, but I’m sure I had something good to say about the remake!

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. It's always nice to watch old classic movies - reminds me of what it was during my grandfather's time. Surprisingly, even though some of their horror scenes are predictable, I still get scared or I get jumpy. LOL Anyway, I'm going to rent this movie. Seems fun.


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