The Cat and the Canary (1978)
the cat and the canary | radley metzger | honor blackman | michael callan | edward fox | based on | play | john willard | comedy | mystery | united kingdom | olivia hussey | carol lynley | wendy hiller | remake | beatrix lehmann | daniel massey | peter mcenery
Film: The Cat and the Canary
Director: Radley Metzger
Writer: Radley Metzger
Starring: Honor Blackman, Michael Callan and Edward Fox
This film begins showing us a boy. He is with a black cat that is on the ground and we see a canary in a cage. The boy walks away and we see that something has happened to the cat. This happened in 1904.
We then shift 30 years into the future. There is a caretaker to a mansion, she is Beatrix Lehmann. An attorney, Wendy Hiller, comes to the house. Together, the two of them go to large machine that is locked shut. It is opened to reveal a box inside. There is also a moth. This is troubling to Hiller as she is the only one who is supposed to have a key. Lehmann doesn’t know how it got inside. A window is then broken.
The rest of the guests start to arrive. They are all here to hear the reading of their ancestor’s will. He has left someone all of his estate and about to make them a rich person. Arriving is Honor Blackman along with her cousin Olivia Hussey. There is Michael Callan who is a famous singer. Daniel Massey is a former surgeon and his cousin who he doesn’t get along with Peter McEnery. McEnery is a pilot who was made famous by the war. The last to arrive is Carol Lynley.
They all meet in the study. We do learn that Lynley has dated Massey and Callan in the past. Hiller fills in on how the process will go and Lehmann is scared when a clock starts to strike. It hasn’t done this since Cyrus West, the deceased man, passed away. It strikes 8 times, the same number as all of the people there. They all then go into the next room to have dinner and watch the reading of the will. It has been recorded on film and has accompanying sound.
Cyrus is portrayed by Wilfrid Hyde-White. There is an interesting scene as he is having the same dinner and cognac with those alive still. Lehmann even serves eerily similar. It is revealed during this that Lynley, being the only ancestor baring the West surname, inherits everything. This is much to the chagrin of Blackman. Everyone is asked to leave the room and he gives her a hint where to find a necklace, a family heirloom as well.
After dinner, Massey and McEnery get into a tussle that ends with Edward Fox breaking it up. He is the head of a local mental hospital. It appears there is a man who escaped from there. He is known as The Cat and Fox is making sure he isn’t in the house. The Cat is a killer who tears the flesh from his victims with his fingernails that have been filed to claws and teeth that have been sharpened as well. It is decided to not tell Lynley about this. It becomes obvious when Callan, Massey and Blackman all check in on her while she unpacks. Blackman also just comes out and tells her about it.
Lynley goes about trying to solve the riddle of where the necklace is. She is talking with Hiller in the study when she disappears. We see a man pull her into a passage behind the bookcase. When everyone comes in, they think she is starting to lose it. Part of the will is that if she is deemed insane, the estate goes to a second person. Who is in place to gain it all if Lynley is deemed unfit? Who is The Cat? Is there really a person in the house or is it one of the guests?
This is the third iteration of this story that I have seen. This is also based on the stage play written by John Willard. I do think that this one does some different things that I liked. The first being that this came out in 1978, there is actually a little blood. I liked that they focused a bit more on the cousin Blackman. We can see she is actively trying to push Lynley into insanity. It was interesting to make Callan’s character less nervous and more confident in himself. I didn’t see an issue making the lawyer a woman, but the only question I have would be if she could practice law at the time the film takes place, which would be 1920’s-1930’s. The film doesn’t feel like it takes place in that era. I think that might be on the actors. It just felt too modern. I still like the concept of The Cat and how he looked. This version does bring the story to life, but I found it interesting it doesn’t seem to focus on Lynley’s character as much as the others. This does build up more of the red herrings as Fox calls out everyone in the room as to why they could be the killer. It is interesting though as you’d think he’d know who the person was though, so I feel this is a plot hole.
The acting for this film I thought was pretty solid. Blackman’s character really shines in this. She has subtle looks on her face that she tries to hide and I really liked it. She is actively trying to drive Lynley insane. Callan’s character is much different than the other two versions and I didn’t mind it. He doesn’t stand out though even though he is the hero. I thought Hiller did fine in her role, even though I’m not sure it is believable for the time period. Hussey was gorgeous as usual. She doesn’t have a big role in the film, but I’m a fan of hers. I did find it odd they don’t seem to focus on Lynley though, as she is the one who The Cat is after. I’m not sure if they didn’t think she was strong enough to carry the film so they allowed her to slip back or not. I thought Massey and McEnery were fine as well.
This film didn’t have much in the way of effects. I thought the look of The Cat was fine and the reveal at the end didn’t bother me. There is a little bit of blood, which looked good. That’s really all the film had in this department. I did have issues though with the editing. The pacing of the film was off. It just feels disjointed and it had trouble keeping my attention. There wasn’t enough tension being built. The score of the film really didn’t stand out to me either. This didn’t hurt or help the film.
Now with that said, this version of the film is more modern take on this story that has been told before, but it still keeps the time period it took place. This does create issues for me as it feels too modern for the time period. There were some good changes in this version not seen in previous ones. I do think the acting was pretty solid across the board. There isn’t much in the way of effects, but what were used I felt were good. The film has pacing issues and the score didn’t really stand out. I do feel this film is slightly above average. I think many would enjoy this as it is in color, where the other versions I’ve seen are black and white while the first is also silent. I do prefer the other two over this one, but this still enjoyable if you like murder mysteries.
My Rating: 6 out of 10