The Cat and the Canary (1927)
Release Year: 1927
Director: Paul Leni
Writers: Robert F. Hill (adaptation), Alfred A. Cohn (adaptation & scenario), Walter Anthony (titles), Edward J. Montagne (story supervision), John Willard (based on his 1922 stage play The Cat and the Canary)
Starring: Laura La Plante, Creighton Hale, Forrest Stanley, Tully Marshall, Gertrude Astor, Flore Finch, Arthur Edmund Carewe, Martha Mattox, George Siegmann, Lucien Littlefield
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #326, week 40 2020
The heirs to an eccentric millionaire gather in his creepy old mansion on the 20th anniversary of his death to hear the contents of his will.
The 1939 adaptation of John Willard’s stage is probably the most famous adaptation, but the original adaptation is well worth a revisit. Made in 1927 by Paul Leni, one of many excellent imports from the influential German cinematic scene, the film has cast long creepy shadows over the developing horror genre. Although not the first haunted house horror, the techniques applied by Leni as well as the look of the film has highly influential that particular subgenre. Among filmmakers who cite The Cat and the Canary as an influence are James Whale (Frankenstein, 1931) and Alfred Hitchcock (Psycho, 1960). The old house itself is highly impressive, and the film sets are genuinely creepy and foreboding. Leni succeeds in creating a spooky atmosphere throughout the film as well as a couple of spine-chilling scenes. The cast is great and consists of a diverse assembly of potential heirs, most of them vultures, who have circled around the late millionaire, interested only in his money, like cats around a canary (hence the title). Among them are at least two people of good will, the scared yet brave (and very amusing) Paul, played by Creighton Hale (Way Down East, 1920), and the lovely Annabelle, played bu Laura La Plante (The Last Warning, 1928). When it becomes clear that Annabelle is the intended heir, if her sanity can be proven by a doctor, she finds herself the victim of one of the others, hellbend on making her appear mad so she will loose the inheritance. The mystery element of the film works very well and the cast all deliver in what is a highly atmospheric and entertaining early American horror film. Highly recommended.
NB: No trailer exists, but below is a short clip from the film:
Paul Leni’s The Cat and the Canary is said to have been a big influence on James Whale when he made The Old Dark House (1932).
Screenwriter Robert F. Hill functioned as an assistant director during filming. Leni spoke very little English, and Hill spoke German, so he acted as an intermediary between the director and the cast.
The black cat glimpsed on the road in the scene with the road accident was stuffed.