The Cat and the Canary (1927)
the cat and the canary | paul leni | robert f. hill | alfred a. cohn | laura la plante | creighton hale | forrest stanley | comedy | mystery | united states | based on | play | john willard | tully marshall | gertrude astor | flora finch | arthur edmund carewe
Film: The Cat and the Canary
Director: Paul Leni
Writer: Robert F. Hill and Alfred A. Cohn
Starring: Laura La Plante, Creighton Hale and Forrest Stanley
This film starts showing us an eccentric old man, Cyrus West, who believes his family is only around for his money. He feels like a canary surrounded by cats and we get this image of large, superimposed cats around him. He passes away and in his will it states that his family must wait 20 years to find out who is leaving all of his money to.
On the anniversary of his death, we are back at the mansion. Someone comes in and opens up the safe. We cannot see who the hands belong to, but they take something out of it. Then they put something in and close it up. The maid who has worked here ever since the old man was alive, Martha Mattox, starts to open the safe. There is then a knock at the door. She answers it to find Cyrus’ lawyer, Tully Marshall. He asks if everyone is here for him to read the will. She states he is the first.
Marshall then opens the safe to find a moth in it. He asks who else is in the house and she tells him no one. He informs her that he is supposed to be the only one who knows the combination and that someone has been in it. The other family members start to arrive.
Cyrus’ nephews Forrest Stanley and Arthur Edmund Carewe, his sister Flora Finch, her niece Gertrude Astor and his niece Laura La Plante all arrive to see who is going to inherit his estate. There is a provision that whoever gets it has to be seen by a doctor to ensure that they are sane. The reason for this was all of his family members were questioning his sanity while he was still alive.
It turns out that Plante is the one that will get all of the money. Hale is the only one who is happy for her and informs her that if he had gotten it, he would have given it over to her. Plante is in the library with Marshall. She has her back to him when a secret passage behind the bookcase opens. He is taken inside. She starts to panic when he stops talking and he is missing. With him was the envelope that contained who gets everything if she is found to be insane on this night.
While she is with the rest of the family, a guard from a local mental hospital informs them that an inmate escaped. The guard is George Siegmann. He wants everyone to stay put while he finds the escape prisoner. This makes everyone uneasy as well.
In her room, Plante finds a letter from her uncle where to find the diamond that was part of the estate. It is hidden by the fireplace in her room. Will she be able to find the item or will the person who took Marshall get her first? Who took Marshall? Is he still alive? Is the escaped patient one of the people in the house? Or is it ghosts that are doing this?
I was turned on to this film from an encyclopedia of horror films. What I found quite interesting about this film is that it was one of the first Universal horror. This is based off a stage play, which was quite common for the early films from the era. I thought the story was pretty solid as well. We have an eccentric old man that is hounded by his family for his money. He decides to make them wait 20 years before anyone gets it. He has the clause in his will that the person he awards it to has to be sane so a doctor must interview them before they can get it or it goes to the next. This of course causes someone to try to drive the person crazy. I thought the reveal was a pretty decent surprise. Looking back though, it does make a lot of sense. I like that the person created a persona though that the killer treats his victims like a cat with a canary. There a multiple references to both animals like in the title. This also surprisingly has a pretty high running time and some subplots in it. It unfortunately though was a little bit boring leading up to the climax though.
The acting for a film from this era is interesting. It is a silent film, so you have to come in knowing that everyone is going to be over the top with their make-up and how they play the role. I don’t hold it against them too bad; because the reason for this is that they can’t show their acting by what they say. They have to be similar to stage actors to get it across with their body. I thought the cast was really solid across the board. Plante was quite attractive and you feel for her as she is haunted. Hale was kind of funny at times and solid as the one trying to help Plante. Astor also was nice to look at. Finch looked mean and she played it well also. Mattox also was scary looking. She helped to build the tension and fear.
The film really didn’t have a lot in the terms of effects. The costume for the person wasn’t great, but it was done practical. For the time, it was probably really good so I won’t harp on that too much. They did use the technology they had available as well, like the superimposing of images, which didn’t bother me too bad. I was kind of surprised as this was probably something not seen a lot. I should commend the director Paul Leni was known for his German Expressionism. You don’t get a lot of that style in the film, except they did do things that distort reality. The editing of the film needed a little work. I think this is where more of the issues I had with the film came from. It kind of meanders in the middle and I lost a bit of interest. The climax does help fix that and the resolution. I thought the score for the version I saw for the most part was really good. It helps to set the feel for each scene. There were a couple of times that either the song ended or something along those lines that threw me off.
Now with that said, this film was pretty solid for the era it was made. This is one of the first Universal horror films and this one was interesting as it becomes a murder mystery as well as kind of a black comedy. It was adapted from a stage play, which makes sense to how the film plays out. I enjoyed the reveal and the ending. The acting was solid for the era. The effects were practical and not bad for the era as well. I liked the setting and the camera effects that were used. The editing needed to be tightened just a bit. The score for the version I watched was solid. I will warn you that this film is from 1927. It is in black and white as well as silent. If that is an issue, there are two other versions of the film. If not, I would recommend this as historically it is important and overall is above average in my opinion.
My Rating: 7 out of 10